Comparison of survey methods for monitoring Clark's Nutcrackers and predicting dispersal of whitebark pine seeds

  • Lorenz T
  • Sullivan K
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Clark's Nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) disperse seeds of whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) in western North America by their scatter-hoarding behavior. Because of declines in whitebark pine, resource managers are seeking an effective means of monitoring nutcracker population trends and the probability of seed dispersal by nutcrackers. We tested the reliability of four survey techniques (standard point counts, playback point counts, line transects, and Breeding Bird Survey routes) for estimating population size by conducting surveys at sites where a portion of the nutcracker population was marked with radio transmitters. The efficacy of distance sampling, based on detection rates from our unadjusted surveys, was also assessed. We conducted counts of whitebark pine cones within stands and related the probability of seed dispersal within stands to cone production and nutcracker abundance. We conducted 70 h of surveys for Clark's Nutcrackers at eight sites from July through November in 2007 and 2009 and estimated cone densities at six of these sites. Detection rates for all survey techniques were low and variable and we detected an average of 5.6 nutcrackers per 30 min of survey time. We also found no difference in detection rates among survey types, although significantly more nutcrackers were detected during surveys conducted during the peak of whitebark pine cone harvest (P < 0.0001). Nutcracker abundance was not correlated with cone density (P= 0.29) and we observed nutcrackers pouching seeds at all sites. Thus, cone density did not provide reliable information on whether seed dispersal was likely to occur. We suggest that alternate methods be considered for monitoring populations and assessing seed dispersal probability because we did not reliably detect nutcrackers using conventional survey techniques and because nutcracker abundance was not correlated with cone density.

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  • Teresa J. Lorenz

  • Kimberly A. Sullivan

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