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Chipmunks Vanish from California Mountains

Chipmunks Vanish from California Mountains

The Inyo chipmunk apparently is no longer living in the Sierra. Researcher James Patton has been looking for the high altitude chipmunk for two years and found none. He has set hundreds of traps in areas where they used to live, and caught not a single Inyo chipmunk. In 1911 they were fairly common.

Now the species has disappeared. No single explanation has been found for their disappearance. Speculation leans towards climate change altering their historical habitat. Forest conditions where they lived have shifted towards earlier snowmelts and warmer temperatures.

But it isn’t only the Inyo chipmunk that has undergone changes. The alpine chipmunk used to be found in significant numbers at about 8,600 feet at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. Now it has moved to higher elevations.

Patton said, “Chipmunks are giving us a bigger signal of change than any of the other small mammals in the Sierra Nevada,” said Patton. “Chipmunks are far more interesting than what everybody is focusing on.” (Source: Sacramento Bee)

He believes what is happening to chipmunks is a better indicator of climate change impacts than the pika situation.

The World Wildlife Fund says this about pika, “American pikas may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to the response of alpine and mountain systems to global warming.”

It might have been that pica were the first alpine animals to be observed in danger of extinction due to climate change. Marmots are also being impacted by climate change. The warmer high altitude temperatures are causing them to come out of hibernation a month earlier than they usually do. They reportedly are getting fat due to eating for an extra month of the year. The change in their behavior was noted to probably not be constructive long-term, “But in this case the effect is only temporary, since the forces that are causing marmots to thrive are almost certain to spell their doom.” (Source: LA Times) The same conditions might have caused the Inyo chipmunks to have insufficient food to survive in the Sierra. A warmer, drier habitat may not allow the same plants to grow they depend upon.

Inyo Chipmunks are not completely extinct. Some still live in the White Mountains, which are fairly close to the Sierra. If Mr. Patton had not noticed their disappearance in the Sierra, would anyone else have? Some might say, “It’s just a chipmunk, who cares?” Many species living in mountains could be in danger from climate change. This chipmunk could be the beginning of a period of their demise.

Image Credit: Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada

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65 comments

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4:11PM PST on Jan 12, 2013

Too bad. This makes me sad.

9:35PM PST on Jan 2, 2012

All the animals have been sending us signals! For a long time!

4:53PM PST on Jan 2, 2012

Sorry to hear that, thanks.

12:32AM PST on Nov 26, 2011

Thanks for the article.

4:38AM PST on Mar 4, 2011

Thanks for the info.

12:28PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

Disturbing news. Agree with Roberto: "I hope this area becomes protected so the chipmunks dont leave".

4:48PM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

Whatever the reason for this is, it sounds concerning.

7:45AM PDT on Oct 20, 2010

Thanks!

1:00PM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

Is it really climate change driving chipmunks to higher regions or domestic animals i.e. cats? Or could it be encroachment of humans and/or pollution? Global warming seems to be blamed for everything these days - we need to take care that we examine all possibilities before lumping everything in with climate change, otherwise, we might miss some vital clue as to what the real problem could be.

9:59AM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

I used to see them this past Summer in Van Cortlandt Park,Bronx,NY.They are so little and quick...I hope this area becomes protected so the chipmunks dont leave...too bad for California.

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