Seeing whitebark pine in a northern Rocky Mountain (USA) landscape: notes for a field trip

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The changing role of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) along an altitudinal gradient typical of the Northern Rocky Mountains (USA) can be seen from the gondolas at the "Big Sky" resort near Bozeman, MT. Whitebark pine appears mostly as seedlings in the lowest zone (7,500 to 8,500 ft), becomes increasingly important in the canopy between 8,400 and 8,900 ft, assumes climax dominance in the woodland zone (8,900 to 9,300 ft), and maintains that dominance to treeline. On this gradient the mature tree's growth form changes from tall-lyrate, to shorter-spherical, to krummholz. The tree is seral in the lowest zones; frequent fires exclude it from canopies in the lowest zone, while low fire frequency gives it subclimax status higher (8,400 to 8,900 ft) in the zone dominated by subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) at climax. Above 8,900 ft, whitebark dominates woodlands (formed, probably, when subalpine fir is excluded by cold) and krummholz (due, probably, to winter desiccation). Mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) have killed much of the lodgepole (P. contorta) and whitebark pine in the area, and whitebark groves tend to be ringed with dead trees because the especially vigorous trees at grove edges are most susceptible. Cirque bowls on Lone Mountain demonstrate an inverted timberline at which conifers disappear downward, probably due to spring frosts.




T Weaver 1990. Seeing whitebark pine in a northern Rocky Mountain (USA) landscape: notes for a field trip. p355-358. Schmidt, Wyman C.; McDonald, Kathy J., compilers. 1990. Proceedings - Symposium on whitebark pine ecosystems: Ecology and management of a high-mountain resource; 1989 March 29-31; Bozeman, MT. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-270. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 386 p.
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