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Impacts of Climate Change on Pinyon Pine Cone Production


Miranda D. Redmond
Forest and Rangeland Stewardship
University of Colorado
Nichole N. Barger
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado


In this interrupted case study, students explore how changing climate may affect cone production in pinyon pine (Pinus edulis). Students begin by learning about mast seeding, a common reproductive strategy among many perennial plant species, and why mast seeding is often correlated with certain climatic variables. Students then work in small groups to develop hypotheses of how recent changes in climate may affect cone production and design an experiment to test their hypotheses. Students are then given data from a study that examines the effects of recent changes in climate on cone production, and they then work together in their small groups to interpret the data, understand the limitations of the study, and draw appropriate conclusions. This process teaches students about the scientific method, the complexity involved in interpreting data, and the potential mechanisms of how climate change may affect reproduction in pinyon pine. This case study is appropriate for a variety of undergraduate courses, including, plant ecology, population and community ecology, and general ecology.


  • Explain what mast seeding is and the dominant hypotheses for why many perennial plants exhibit mast seeding.
  • Assess how changes in climate may affect reproduction in mast seeding species and the associated mechanisms.
  • Synthesize climate and cone production data to make predictions of how future climate may affect cone production.
  • Gain experience in hypotheses formation, experimental design, data interpretation, literature searching, and scientific writing.


Mast seeding; masting; pinyon pine; Pinus edulis; plant reproduction; climate change; semi-arid ecosystem; drought; New Mexico

Topical Areas

Scientific method

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Discussion, Interrupted, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Ecology  |   Environmental Science  |   Botany / Plant Science  |   Forestry  |   Natural Resource Management  |   Biology (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

Also included with this case study is an excel file that contains the data presented in Figure 2 (sheet titled: “Cone Late Summer Temperature”) and Figure 3 (sheet titled: “Cone Growing Season Temperature”) as well as important data notes (sheet titled: “Metadata”). This way, instructors have the option of having students graph and/or analyze the data.

  Pinyon Pine Cone Case Study Data

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.


Tom MacDonald
Env Science
San Francisco, CA
This case study looks like it would be great for my students. One thing that might also be useful is a file with the data sets used to make the graphs and calculate the statistics. That would help the students get experience with that part of the analytical process. Thanks again.

Miranda Redmond
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado - Boulder
Boulder, CO
We have been able to add the data to the case. It is accessible from the Supplemental Materials tab above.

Jaimie Farrell
Wilby High School
Waterbury, CT
Having the two articles accessible that are part of the Part I reading assignment would be helpful. My school does not have access to these journals and therefore I had to purchase both articles separately for my AP biology class to be able to conduct the readings prior to completing the case study.


Editor’s Reply: We are unfortunately unable to host those articles on this site because they are copyrighted materials whose rights we do not control.