Most Mysterious

My mother posing with a larger sapling we suspect is Eastern white pine
Visiting my parents for the holidays, we went hiking around Bear Meadows in Rothrock State Forest (central Pennsylvania) a few days ago. As we emerged from the aggressively drooping forest of rhododendrons into stands of oak, pine, and other trees, I noticed large patches of what I think are Eastern white pine saplings. They may have been just a couple years old, and grew not in the clearings but under a fully thick canopy of oaks and other angiosperms (your word for the day – click on it to look it up!). I did not spot any other white pines in the immediate vicinity. I have read that there are active human restoration efforts to boost white pines’ numbers in Pennsylvania, but the placement of these saplings did not look human designed. For example, one would be right up next to an existing tree or shrub – clearly the root system of that other plant would have made digging a hole to plant the tree inconvenient.
This made me wonder:
-Which trees did the cones that grew here come from?
-Did those cones end up in a patch here, or are they scattered all throughout the forest? If they are scattered evenly everywhere, why did they only germinate and grow here?
-What combination of light, moisture, topography, and microorganisms in the soil made this a great spot for white pines?
-What eats pine cones and/or seedlings around here?
-Regardless of the environmental factors that make this quarter acre favorable to white pines this year, they are sure to experience competition with the other white pine saplings as they grow larger. Not all of them will survive. This kind of patchiness and lowered fitness of individuals in crowded places is a pattern we can see all over in nature. Even on a short afternoon walk through the woods.

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