The Pikas in Peril Project is funded through the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program. A large team of academic researchers and National Park Service staff will work together to address questions regarding the vulnerability of the American pika to future climate change scenarios projected for the western United States.
By assessing the vulnerability of this sentinel species, the research team will provide park managers with insights into the expected rate and magnitude of climate-related changes in park ecosystems and critical information for park scenario planning and interpretive goals.
The American pika is considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change. Climate change already may be a leading factor in the extinction of local pika populations in the Great Basin: of 25 populations recorded during 1898-1990, nine were extinct by 2008 (Beever et al. 2010). The lowest recorded occurrence of pikas has risen over 150 meters during the past century, both within Yosemite National Park (Moritz et al. 2008) and throughout the Great Basin (Grayson 2005), and the rate of uphill range contraction in the Basin now stands at nearly 130 m/decade (Beever et al. in litt.). In Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, an unusually large but isolated lava habitat, pikas appear to be restricted to the highest portions of the monument above 1600 meters (Rodhouse et al. 2010). Pikas are shifting their range to higher elevations in response to increased warming, and thus, their suitable habitat is being reduced. In models designed to predict these patterns of loss, the importance of climatic factors has risen dramatically over the past decade (Ray et al. in press; Beever et al. in litt.). Recent habitat models (Craighead 2008) as well as dynamic models of climate-mediated extinction (Loarie et al. in press) predict that pikas may disappear from up to 80% of their current range by the turn of the century. Consequently, the species was recently considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2009). Although the species was not listed as endangered or threatened, the US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that "Climate change is a potential threat to the long-term survival of the American pika" (USFWS 2010). Regardless of the listing decision, it is imperative that parks actively plan for managing pika populations and pika habitat as climate changes. Understanding the vulnerability of pikas to climate change can also provide important insights to park managers about other potential impacts of climate change on park ecosystems.
This research project will address critical shortfalls in our understanding of pika ecology and vulnerability to climate change. Products from this project will facilitate evidence-based management actions in eight National Park Service units and increase awareness among the public. The research team will conduct pika occupancy surveys across a range of latitudes, longitudes, elevations, and substrate types (talus slopes vs. lava beds) from which scientists will develop both park-specific and regionally appropriate habitat models for assessing pika vulnerability to climate change. Using information on genetic variation from analyses of fecal DNA collected during occupancy surveys, scientists will quantify recent gene flow patterns and develop habitat-based models of population and subpopulation connectivity within parks. Finally, the team will combine models of distribution, habitat, population connectivity, and genetics to assess the vulnerability of pikas in parks to climate change.
Beever, E. A., C. Ray, P. W. Mote, and J. L. Wilkening. 2010. Testing alternative models of climate-mediated extirpation. Ecological Applications 20:164-178.
Beever, E. A., C. Ray, J. L. Wilkening, P. W. Mote and P.F. Brussard. In litt. Contemporary climate change hastens extinctions and alters the factors governing extinction. Unpublished Manuscript
Craighead, A. 2008. Utilizing habitat suitability models to predict the effects of global climate change on three different species of pika (family Ochotonidae). Final Report to Alcoa Foundation.
Loarie, S. R., C. B. Field, C. Ray, E. A. Beever, P. B. Duffy, K. Hayhoe, J. L. Wilkening and J. S. Clark. In press. Climate threats to the American pika: modeling historical persistence for 21st century projections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Moritz, C., J. L. Patton, C. J. Conroy, J. L. Parra, G. C. White, and S. R. Beissinger. 2008. Impact of a century of climate change on small-mammal communities in Yosemite National Park, USA. Science 322:261-264.
Rodhouse, T. J., E. A. Beever, L. K. Garrett, K. M. Irvine, M.R. Jeffress, M. Munts, and C. Ray. 2010. Distribution of American pikas in a low-elevation lava landscape: conservation implications from the range periphery. Journal of Mammalogy 91: 1287-1299.
Ray, C., E. Beever, and S. Loarie. In press. Retreat of the American pika: up the mountain or into the void? In Brodie, J. F., E. Post, and D. Doak, editors. Conserving wildlife populations in a changing climate. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009. 90-Day finding on a petition to list the American pika as threatened or endangered with critical habitat. Federal Register 74:21301-21310.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010. 12-month Finding on a Petition to List the American Pika as Threatened or Endangered. Federal Register 75:6438-6471.