Impact of climate change on the American pika

The first mammal to be endangered by climate change

Pikas are especially vulnerable to climate change for several reasons. In the face of increasing global temperatures, mobile vertebrates are generally predicted to move upslope or to more northern latitudes. American pikas cannot easily move northward, as their habitat is currently restricted to small, disconnected habitat ‘islands’ in numerous mountain ranges.

Although talus within mountain ranges is often more continuous, this is not always the case; some ranges only have habitable talus (with rock diameters 0.2 - 1.0 m) at lower elevations or in broadly separated patches. Furthermore, pikas generally do not appear to move large distances, as many individuals may spend their entire lifespan within a 1 km radius.

In addition, pikas do not inhabit burrows (which could dampen extreme temperatures) and are highly active above ground during the hottest months of the year. In these months, they are curing vegetation for overwinter survival (pikas are active year-round).

Earlier aging of vegetation may mean increased stress for pikas, and hotter temperatures during high activity periods can create direct thermal stress on the animals. Pikas are densely furred, and thus cannot dissipate heat easily.

About the American pika

Pikas are small mammals with short, rounded ears, and an invisible ‘buried’  tail that live in higher elevations.

Although pikas resemble hamsters, they comprise their own family and are most closely related to rabbits. Across the world, 14-26 species of pikas occupy steppes and mountainous terrain in eastern Asia, the Middle East, and North America.

With the exception of 4 species, all species of Pikas primarily live in talus or broken rock. In North America, there are 2 species of pikas that both live only in talus or broken rock. American pikas (Ochotona princeps) live in cool, moist areas - often at higher elevations.
The content of this webpage is based on an interview with Dr Erik Beever, an ecologist with the US Geological Survey and lead author of a study on pikas (Ochotona princeps).

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