take the heat!
in Denali National Park
21st century pika nickname
Pikas have been called Rock Rabbits, Relics of the Ice Age,
Haymakers, Conies, Whistling Hares, and Piping Hares. Now
add Ecosystem Engineers!
"American pikas may act as 'ecosystem
engineers' at talus margins because of their extensive haying
Pamela refuses to come out of her hole
if it is too hot.
furry friends, the American pikas, may be one of the first mammals
in North America known to fall victim to global warming according
to research published in the February 2003 issue of the Journal
of Mammalogy. The research was carried out by Erik Beever, a U.S.
Geological Survey biologist, and colleagues Peter Brussard and Joel
Berger over six summers from 1994-1999 in an area of the western
U.S. known as the Great Basin. (1,2)
The World Wildlife
Fund is concerned about the implications of these results and has
widely publicized them. The story has been popping up in newspapers
and online papers and e-newsletters around the world. The article
from the February 26th issues of the Los Angeles Times is reprinted
with permission (LATimes).
results suggested that American pikas are particularly vulnerable
to global warming because they reside in areas with cool, relatively
moist climates like those normally found in their mountaintop habitat.
As temperatures rise due to increasing emissions of CO2 and other
heat-trapping gases, many montane animals are expected to seek higher
elevations or migrate northward in an attempt to find suitable habitat.
Living essentially on high-elevation islands means that American
pikas in these regions have little option for refuge from the pressures
of climate change because migration across low-elevation valleys
represents an incalculably high risk - and perhaps an impossibility
under current climate regimes - for them.
the new study suggest that climate may be interacting with other
factors such as proximity to roads and smaller habitat area to increase
extinction risk for pikas, creating detrimental synergistic effects.
may unfortunately be the 'canary in the coal mine' when it comes
to the response of alpine and mountain systems to global warming,"
said Dr. Lara Hansen, senior scientist, World Wildlife Fund Climate
Change Program. "Their disappearance is an indication that our heavy
reliance on polluting fossil fuels is causing irreparable damage
to our environment. We must make the switch to clean renewable energy
resources like wind and solar now before it's too late."
says that there are a number of reasons why he chose to study pikas
rather than other mammal species. "In addition to their charismatic
appeal with the general public, pikas turn out to make an excellent
" In contrast
to most other mammals which are nocturnal or crepuscular (active
at dusk and dawn), pikas are mostly diurnal (active during the day),
which facilitates their observation without the need for infrared-based
optics or track plates.
pikas are not secretive and difficult to find, as are many other
mammal species. American pikas live almost exclusively in talus
or talus-like habitats, making searches for them much easier.
because pikas use vocalizations to communicate territory boundaries
and for several other functions, they'll generally inform "intruding"
researchers of their presence once humans step onto taluses.
"Their characteristic haypiles also reflect where individual
territories are located, and are what pikas use to survive during
the winter under the snowpack, where they are active year-round.
pikas do not appear to move long distances, which makes them both
apparently more vulnerable to population extirpation and easier
to track through time.
the 1970's by Andrew Smith demonstrated pikas' vulnerability to
high temperatures." David Hik has also reported plummeting
collared pika populations during the warm winters from 1998-2000
in the Central Yukon. The dense, insulting fur of pikas provides
excellent wamth for them during periods of extreme or prolonged
cold temperatuers, but this fur also contributes to pikas' inability
to withstand increased temperatures.
1/ Beever, E.A.,
Brussard, P.F.and Berger,J. 2003. Patterns of apparent extirpation
among isolated populations of pikas (Ochotona princeps) in
the Great Basin. Journal of Mammalogy, 84 (1): 37-54.
2/ The Great
Basin includes most of Nevada and parts of surrounding states.