This story originally featured in CompassLive, the online science magazine of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS).
Regional summary for U.S. Southeast available
Dale Brockway, research ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), recently published his yearly summary of projected longleaf pine cone production for 2014 and 2015. The report shows that a very good longleaf pine cone crop is expected in October 2014 for the Southeast.
“Our estimates show the 2014 crop averaging 98 cones per tree, which is the second highest level on record and well above the long-term regional average,” said Brockway, who is stationed at the SRS Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems unit in Auburn, Alabama. “Cone production has been monitored now for 49 years, with the average during that time of 28 cones per tree. The best crop, of 115 cones per tree, occurred during 1996.”
Fair or better cone crops have occurred during 51 percent of all years since 1966, and with increasing frequency since 1983. “The reason for this increasing frequency could be related to genetic, environmental, or management factors, but we don’t know the specific cause at this time,” said Brockway.
To calculate cone crops for the present year, data collectors use binoculars to count the number of conelets (green cones) present in the crowns of mature longleaf pine trees growing on monitoring sites established in low-density longleaf pine stands across the region. Monitors also count the number of small flowers in the crowns of the same trees to estimate the cone crop outlook for the following year.
“We estimate the regional cone crop for October 2015 as fair, at 44 cones per tree,” said Brockway. “Keep in mind that estimates based on flower counts are less reliable than those based on conelet counts, because flowers often do not survive into the second year to become conelets.”
Landowners and managers should access the full report to find more detailed information about sites near their own locations, since natural variation does cause cone production to differ from site to site. “Also note that ‘hot spots’ of greater cone production can occur locally, even during times of overall low production,” said Brockway. “We encourage landowners to take their binoculars to the woods to do conelet counts in the stands in which they have a particular interest.”
For more information, email Dale Brockway at firstname.lastname@example.org