Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) assisted migration potential: testing establishment north of the species range


  • Corresponding Editor: A. D. McGuire.


The translocation of species into habitable locations outside of their current ranges, termed assisted migration, has been proposed as a means of saving vulnerable species from extinction as a result of climate change. We explore the use of this controversial technique using a threatened keystone species in western North America, whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), as a case study. Species distribution models predict that whitebark pine will be extirpated from most of its current range as temperatures rise over the next 70 years. However, the same models indicate that a large area within northwestern British Columbia, Canada, is climatically suitable for the species under current conditions and will remain so throughout the 21st century. To test the capacity of whitebark pine to establish relative to climatic and habitat features within its predicted climatic range, we planted seeds from seven populations in eight locations spanning from 600 km southeast to 800 km northwest of the northern boundary of the current species range. During the first three growing seasons, germination occurred in all locations. Nearly three times as many treated (induced maturation and broken dormancy) than untreated seeds germinated, and most treated seeds germinated a year earlier than the untreated seeds. Germination, survival, and growth were primarily influenced by seed mass, site climate conditions related to the duration of snow cover, and provenance temperature. Our experiment provides a preliminary test of models predicting the existence of climatically suitable whitebark pine habitat north of the current species ranges. More broadly, our techniques and results inform the development of scientific guidelines for assisting the migration of other species that are highly threatened by climate change. Applied case studies of this kind are critical for assessing the utility of species distribution models as conservation planning tools.