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No AccessAmerican Society of Naturalists Address

The Natural History of the South Hills Crossbill in Relation to Its Impending Extinction*

*Craig W. Benkman received the 2014 Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award. The Wilson Award is given to an active investigator in midcareer who has made significant contributions to the knowledge of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms and whose research and writing illuminate principles of evolutionary biology and an enhanced appreciation of natural history.

ORCIDs: Benkman,

Increasingly, the species that we discover will be uncommon, area restricted, and vulnerable to extinction. I describe the natural history of a newly discovered seed-eating finch from the Rocky Mountain region, the South Hills crossbill (Loxia curvirostra complex). It relies on seeds in the closed cones of the fire-adapted Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta latifolia) and is found only in the higher elevations of two small mountain ranges in southern Idaho. Here crossbills and pine are engaged in a coevolutionary arms race. Although most of the seeds remain secured within the cones for decades until the heat of a stand-replacing fire causes the cone scales to separate, seeds become accessible to crossbills slowly as cones weather and gaps form between some of the scales. However, hot days (≥32°C), especially four or more hot days, seem to mimic the effect of fire, apparently causing the immediate release of a fraction of the seeds. Such events caused a 20% annual decline in crossbills that lasted up to 4 years and an 80% decline in the population between 2003 and 2011. This is an example of a novel trophic mismatch between a consumer and its resource caused by a shift in the phenology of the resource arising from climate change. Not only do these phenological shifts have the potential to cause seed consumers to decline, these shifts are also likely to cause reduced recruitment of the plants. The South Hills crossbill is especially vulnerable and will likely go extinct this century before lodgepole pine is extirpated from the South Hills.