The American pika is disappearing from the mountainous slopes where it makes its home. Its range throughout the mountains of California is shrinking, and authors of a new study believe climate change may be the cause.

A small animal with a big voice, the pika is a lagomorph, a member of the same family that includes rabbits and hares. It lives at high altitudes, amongst areas of broken rock. and is well adapted to handle harsh weather. “Backpackers and hikers often see pikas scurrying back and forth across the rocks, gathering little bouquets of wildflowers in their mouths,” author Jacob Stewart said. “They are uniquely adapted to cold temperatures, but these same adaptations make the species vulnerable to global warming.”

As summer temperatures rise, pikas are forced to spend more time out of the sun, hidden away in cooler locations to protect themselves from overheating. This means they have less time to forage and gather the resources necessary to survive the winter.

The researchers discovered that pika populations had already disappeared from 15% of the sites they were known to inhabit, and while some populations can head to higher elevations to counter climate change, some do not have that luxury and face an uncertain future.

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The above is based on materials provided by the University of California.

Stewart, J, Perrine, J, Nichols, L. et al.  (2015). Revisiting the past to foretell the future: summer temperature and habitat area predict pika extirpations in CaliforniaJournal of Biogeography, 2015; DOI:10.1111/jbi.12466

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