Pines and other conifers have been studied in the Liston lab since the 1990s. We maintain an extensive collection of pine seeds preserved for DNA extraction; available to researchers upon request. Our current project is the development of a high-throughput method for the identification of whitebark vs. limber pine (Pinus albicaulis vs. P. flexilis).
A fundamental step in all efforts to manage and restore whitebark pine ecosystems is the correct identification of the focal species. Identification is trivial when mature seed cones are present, but whitebark pines require at least 80 years to mature and produce cones. Whitebark and limber pines have similar growth forms and needle morphology, and their distributions overlap across much of their geographic ranges in the Northern Rocky Mountains. In December 2022, USFW declared whitebark pine a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The protections afforded by the ESA add urgency to the need to properly identify immature whitebark pines.