Spatial variation in cone serotiny in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ssp. latifolia) across Yellowstone National Park influences initial pine recruitment after stand-replacing fire with tremendous population, community, and ecosystem consequences. A previous study showed that much of the spatial variation in serotiny results from the balance of selection arising from high frequencies of fire favoring serotiny countered by opposing selection exerted by American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) as seed predators. This earlier study, however, assumed stable local red squirrel densities over multiple generations of pines. Here, we examine environmental properties that might contribute to long-term stability in the densities of red squirrels among sites. We found that the amount of clay in the soil, an indicator of plant and fungal growth-the latter an important food resource for red squirrels-and the coefficient of variation (CV) in diameter at breast height (DBH) of forest trees together account for a substantial amount of variation in red squirrel density. Soil development occurs over very long time scales, and thus, intersite variation in the amount of clay is unlikely to shift across pine generations. However, CV of DBH and squirreldensity increase with stand age, which acts to amplify selection against serotiny with increasing interfire interval. Regardless, much of the variation in the CV of DBH is accounted for by soil bulk density, mean annual temperature, and surface curvature, which are unlikely to vary in their relative differences among sites over time. Consequently, these soil and abiotic attributes could contribute to consistent spatial patterns of red squirrel densities from one pine generation to the next, resulting in consistent local and spatial variation in selection exerted by red squirrels against serotiny.
Pinus contorta; Tamiasciurus hudsonicus; Yellowstone; foundation species; serotiny