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Adorable American Pika Is Disappearing Due to Climate


Whole populations of the American pika are disappearing due to climate change.
Credit: Will Thompson/USGS
The pika has adapted to life in mountainous areas that rarely get above freezing and can die
when exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees F.
Once they move upslope to reach the top and find the temperatures still too warm, the pika
has no place else to go.
With round bodies, prominent ears, no visible tail and weighing just 5 ounces, pikas are
unmercifully cute. But despite their cuddly appearance, American pikas, the smallest
members of the rabbit family, are among North America's toughest animals--and they have to
be. Pikas are one of the few mammals in the lower 48 states that can survive their entire lives
in alpine terrain, the windswept no-man's-land above tree line.
The American pika, a pint-size rabbit relative, is feeling the heat: Hotter summers induced by
climate change are threatening these cute creatures' habitats throughout the western United
The small herbivores make their home in rocky slopes, known as taluses, across the West's
mountain ranges. A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that whole
populations of the tiny mammal are disappearing due to climate change. The pika's

mountainous habitats have become hotter and drier in the summer and harsher in the winter,
with less snow cover to insulate their burrows in the ground, the researchers said.
After studying the cute critters from 2012 to 2015, the USGS found that the pikas' range was
shrinking in southern Utah, northeastern California and the Great Basin, the latter of which
covers most of Nevada as well as parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California. [In Images:
100 Most Threatened Species]
"It is certainly clear that changes we have observed in pika distribution are primarily
governed by climate, given that nearly all of our climate-related predictions have been borne
out," study lead author Erik Beever, a research ecologist at the USGS, said in a statement.
According to the survey, American pikas have completely disappeared from Zion National
Park in Utah, where there had been sightings of the animals as recently as 2011. In Cedar
Breaks National Monument, also in Utah, pikas were found within only one-quarter of their
historical range. And in northeastern California, the animals were found in just 11 of their 29
confirmed habitats.
The study found that while some short-term population changes were due to drought, other
areas have not been home to pikas for decades.
"Combined with our previous work across the western U.S., the results illustrate that pika
losses are not confined solely to the Great Basin, but that the rate of decline is quite variable
across the western landscape," Beever said.
For years, wildlife advocacy groups have requested that the American pika be added to the
list of endangered species. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rejected
such a request, when the service's risk assessment found that "although the American pika
could potentially be impacted by climate change the species as a whole will be able to
survive despite higher temperatures in a majority of its range."
A new request to evaluate the American pika's status was made this April, and a preliminary
decision is due in early September, the Associated Press reported. However, the USFWS only
takes into account information submitted with the petition. Therefore, the new study will not
be considered in the decision, USFWS spokeswoman Serena Baker told the AP.
According to the USGS, the pika is also seen as an "indicator species," meaning the animal
can offer scientists an early warning about ecosystem changes.
(National Wildlife Federation, 2015) (Deamer, 2016)

(2015). Retrieved September 2, 2016, from National Wildlife Federation:
Deamer, K. (2016, August 30 ). Retrieved September 2, 2016, from Live Science: