Subalpine ecosystems: the roles of whitebark pine and fire
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): M. P. Murray; S. C. Bunting; P. Morgan
Editor(s): J. M. Greenlee
Publication Year: 1997

Cataloging Information

  • Abies lasiocarpa
  • Colaptes auratus
  • Colorado
  • competition
  • Cronartium ribicola
  • Dendroctonus ponderosae
  • distribution
  • elevation
  • European settlement
  • fire dependent species
  • fire exclusion
  • fire regimes
  • fire sensitive plants
  • fire size
  • fire suppression
  • forest management
  • habits and behavior
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nucifraga columbiana
  • Picea engelmannii
  • Pinus albicaulis
  • plant diseases
  • presettlement fires
  • reproduction
  • seeds
  • Sialia currucoides
  • subalpine forests
  • Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
  • Ursus americanus
  • Ursus arctos
  • Utah
  • vulnerable species or communities
  • wilderness areas
  • wilderness fire management
  • wildlife
  • wildlife food plants
  • Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: July 24, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 37885
Tall Timbers Record Number: 12406
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


The subalpine vegetation zone is an extensive and important high elevation setting in the western United States. Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is restricted to, and occurs widely in, the subalpine zone. This tree provides a valuable foodsource and shelter for a variety of wildlife such as grizzly bears, red squirrels, and blue grouse. Reproduction of whitebark pine is closely tied to fire. The Clark’s nutcracker commonly caches pine seeds in recently burned areas. Fire is also important in limiting less fire-resistant competing tree species. We found large fires can be conducive to long-term pine abundance. Nutcrackers can transport seeds and bury them in the center of large burns, whereas wind-transported seeds of competitors do not disperse as far. Considering fire exclusion has altered fire regimes througout the pine’s range with subsequent declines in pine populations, we recommend careful reintroduction of fire in associated subalpine ecosystems. A fundamental goal of restoring fire regimes which resemble pre-settlement (Euroamerican) behavior as closely as possible is imperative for maintaining these valuable ecosystems.

Murray, M. P., S. C. Bunting, and P. Morgan. 1997. Subalpine ecosystems: the roles of whitebark pine and fire, in Greenlee, J. M., Proceedings: First Conference on Fire Effects on Rare and Endangered Species and Habitats. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. International Association of Wildland Fire,Fairfield, WA. p. 295-299,