Climate Fact: When Will the Pika Peak?

Many people think of Polar Bears when they think about climate change, but they aren’t the only animals feeling the impacts. On Endangered Species Day, pandas, gorillas and tigers will get attention, but far away from the limelight, high in the mountains of western North America, the American Pika will continue its slow retreat from rising temperatures.  You won’t find its name on the Endangered Species List yet, but this adorable rabbit-relative is an indicator of the ecological effects of climate change.  In the past century, warmer temperatures have crept up mountain sides, forcing Pikas to move up in search of the cool, moist climates to which they’re accustomed.

Scientists have been monitoring 25 local populations of Pika since 1898 and by 2008, nine of them were extinct.  Rising temperatures have been blamed for a five-fold increase in local Pika extinction rates across the Great Basin, and this trend is only accelerating.  Pika ranges are now shrinking eleven times faster than they were only ten years ago as suitable habitats rise at an average of 145 meters (475 feet) per decade.  If these trends continue, the American Pika will be in trouble, so keep this animal in mind when you observe Endangered Species Day.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

(Sources:  E. A. Beever et al. 2010, “Testing alternative models of climate-mediated extirpations,”  Ecological Applications, 20:1, doi: 10.1890/08-1011.1; E. A. Beever et al. 2011, “Contemporary climate change alters the pace and drivers of extinction,” Global Change Biology, 17:6, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02389.x)

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