Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines

Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines

Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines

Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines

Synopsis

The symbiotic relationship between pine trees and jays has been a cycle of dependency that has been going on for millions of years. The author examines and describes these bird/tree links using examples from all over the world.

Excerpt

Some trees and birds are made for each other. Take for example the whitebark pine, a timberline tree that graces the moraines and ridgetops of the northern Rockies and Sierra Nevada-Cascades system (Plate. I.1). This lovely five-needled pine, long-lived and rugged though it is, cannot reproduce without the help of Clark's Nutcracker. and the nutcracker, though it captures insects in the summer and steals an occasional bit of carrion, cannot raise its young in these alpine habitats without feeding them the nutritious seeds of the whitebark pine. Between them, these dwellers of the high mountains provide for each others' posterity, which leads biologists to label their relationship symbiotic, or mutualistic. But there is more to it than that, because in playing out their roles these partners change the landscape. the environment they create provides life's necessities to many other plants and animals. Working in concert, Clark's Nutcracker and the whitebark pine build ecosystems.

The seeds and cones of the whitebark pine seem at first glance to be useless. the cones do not open far enough to let the seeds fall out. But even if they did, the big, heavy seeds would not fly gracefully to new habitats the way those of most other conifers do, because they lack the membrane wing that grants mobility. Left undisturbed, whitebark cones are not shed from the tree until the following summer, at which point the seeds are rancid and unable to sprout. Truly, the whitebark pine seems boxed in, painted into a reproductive corner from which there is no escape. What in the world is it doing here?

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