So long Pika, we hardly knew ya

Another species on the brink — thanks to human-caused global warming — is abandoned

The American pika, a mountain-dwelling mammal in the West, does not do well in temperatures above 78 degrees.

I typically focus on what the science tells us about the catastrophic impacts humans face if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path. If self-preservation won’t motivate us, whatever empathy we can muster for our furry friends surely can’t.

Still it seems to me that the apparently ‘expendable’ pika deserves at least one blog post, no? Here’s the story, from MSNBC:

SALT LAKE CITY: Federal officials have decided not to provide endangered species protections to the American pika, a tiny mountain-dwelling animal thought to be struggling because of warming temperatures….

A copy of the decision listed on a federal Web site on Thursday says while some pika populations in the West are declining, others are not. The agency says Endangered Species Act protections are not warranted….

“This is a political decision that ignores science and the law,” Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Scientific studies clearly show that the pika is disappearing from the American West due to climate change and needs the immediate protections of the Endangered Species Act to help prevent its extinction. The Interior Department has chosen to sit on its hands instead of taking meaningful action to protect our nation’s wildlife from climate change.”

A furry, big-eared relative of the rabbit, pikas live mostly in high, rocky mountain slopes in 10 Western states.

Temps above 78 can be deadlyIt is well-suited for alpine conditions, with dense fur, slow reproductivity and a thermal regulation system that doesn’t do well in the heat. Even brief exposure to temperatures of 78 degrees or warmer can cause death.

As the West warms, scientists say some pikas have tried to move upslope to find cooler refuges but have run out of room.

Keep climbing, Pika. I’m sure there are enough tall mountains to ensure that a few of your populations don’t decline for a few more years. But don’t worry, I’m sure when they are all in decline, they’ll put you on the list, though it probably won’t be very exclusive then (see “Bush launches Unendangered Species List”).


WWF has more on this “small flower-gathering relative of the rabbit,” a “canary in the coal mine,” for global warming because it is ill-suited for adapting to rapid climate change:

The pikas’ particular vulnerability to global warming is due to several factors. American pikas cannot easily migrate in response to climate change, as their habitat is currently restricted to small, disconnected habitat “islands” in numerous mountain ranges. Although talus within mountain ranges is often more continuous, this is not always the case; some ranges only have habitable talus at lower elevations or in broadly separated patches. Furthermore, American pikas generally do not appear to move large distances, as many individuals may spend their entire lifespan within a half-mile radius. Pikas do not inhabit burrows which could mitigate extreme temperatures and are highly active aboveground during the hottest months of the year. In the warmer months, pikas must cure vegetation for their overwinter survival as pikas are active year-round and food is scarce in winter in the alpine environment. Earlier maturation of vegetation associated with global warming may mean increased stress for pikas, and hotter temperatures during high activity periods can create direct thermal stress on the animals. Pikas are densely furred, and thus cannot dissipate heat easily.

We will always have zoos and pretty still photos! Oh, and videos, too: