Global warming is driving the American pika, a unique cousin of rabbits that dwells in the snowy peaks of the Rockies, to extinction. Pikas, who spend the summer days collecting alpine plants and flowers for their winter nests, die off when exposed to temperatures above 78 degrees. New research published in Global Change Biology find that local populations of pikas — each isolated on the upper reaches of different mountains — are being extirpated by warming temperatures at an increasingly rapid rate. “Four of ten local pika extinctions have occurred since 1999,” the team of scientists from the American West found. The remaining pikas are being driven to higher and higher altitudes as global warming accelerates:
Local extinction rates of American pikas have increased nearly five-fold in the last 10 years, and the rate at which the climate-sensitive species is moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold since the 20th century, according to a study soon to be published in Global Change Biology.
One year ago, the Obama administration denied Endangered Species Act protection to the American pika, following the Bush administration policy of refusing to accept the science of the extinction threat to thousands of species posed by greenhouse pollution from the fossil fuel industry.