This Super Adorable Mammal Could Disappear Because of Climate Change

Scientists are raising concerns about how climate change is threatening the future of one of the cutest little mammals in the nation as they continue to disappear from the landscape.

The American pika is a small herbivorous relative of rabbits and hares who live high in the mountains of the American West. They’ve adapted to live in cold climates in high elevations on rocky formations known as talus formations on mountain slopes,  living on vegetation, and storing stockpiles for winter, but the changes coming with a warming world are proving to be disastrous for them.

86An American pika sits on a talus slope. Credit: Will Thompson, USGS

Back in the 1990s, studies raised concerns about how climate change would impact them and scientists watched populations begin disappearing. The changes in climate are altering what kind and how much food they can access, changing their habitat, and reducing the amount of snow that provides shelter and protection in the winter. Hotter summers are also believed to be causing them to die directly from overheating.

Conservationists previously petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protection to them under the Endangered Species Act, and worked to get them protected by the state in California, but the efforts were denied. Now findings just released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has added yet more evidence that climate change is continuing to drive their decline.

For the study, researchers spent 2014 and 2015 resurveying over 910 sites in their historic range across four states to record any evidence they could find of their presence ranging from sightings and vocalizations to stores of food, in addition to resurveying specific sites within nine states in the Great Basin.

47-1A hay pile gathered by an American pika sits on a talus slope.  During summer pikas collect green mountain plants to make hay piles for winter food. Credit: Will Thompson, USGS

According to the study, which was just published in the Journal of Mammalogy, there’s been a widespread reduction in their numbers in three mountainous regions, including the Great Basin, southern Utah and northeastern California.

In Utah, they were seen as recently as 2011 in Zion National Park and 2012 in Cedar Breaks National Monument, but they’ve disappeared from both places entirely. In California, they disappeared from 11 of 29 historic sites.

“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,” said Erik Beever, USGS research ecologist, and lead author of the study. “However, we are still refining our understanding of the exact combination of direct and indirect pathways by which climate is bringing about change.”

Researchers hope more surveying will lead to a better understanding of their distribution, and that their findings will be used in land management decisions that may further impact the survival of pikas.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, added that the latest information could also potentially be used to get them the federal protection they clearly need.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

216 comments

Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba1 years ago

No! Pikachu can't disappear, already China wanted to kill and eradicate this species, not fair.

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STEFANIE RACKS
STEFANIE RACKS1 years ago

THANKS

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STEFANIE RACKS
STEFANIE RACKS1 years ago

THANKS FOR SHARING AND CARING!

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Nancy W.
Nancy W1 years ago

What animals are not extinct after the apocolypse is over i wonder.

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federico bortoletto
federico b1 years ago

Grazie per la condivisione.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

Good old USFWdis-S. Ignored another species in need.

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Leo Custer
Leo C1 years ago

Thank you for posting.

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Elaine W.
Past Member 1 years ago

I don't think this cutie is the only one in danger.

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Telica R.
Telica R1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Wendi M.
Wendi M1 years ago

TYFS

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