Tiny mountain mammals vanishing from peaks of the intermountain West
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —Some of North America’s most vulnerable mammals are definitely feeling the heat of global warming, as localized pika extinctions in the Great Basin have increased at five times the 20th century average in the last 10 years.
Pikas have long been considered sentinels of climate change impacts because they are sensitive to small changes in climate and are often exposed to frequent swings in temperature and wind speed, poorly developed soils and generally harsher conditions than animals living at lower elevations.
American pikas are small, mountain-dwelling mammals that lives in rocky talus slopes and lava flows typically found in mountain ecosystems throughout the western United States.
A recent Colorado study found that pikas are holding their own in the southern Rockies, at least for now, but the pika habitat in the Great Basin is much more constrained by elevation and vegetation.
The Great Basin study also found that the lowest elevation that pikas are occupying moved upslope 11 times faster during the past decade than during the 2oth century, suggesting that their habitat is now shrinking rapidly.
The researchers also found that there may be some resiliency in pikas, which may start using non-traditional habitats, enabling them to live on the edge of their climatic niche.