Climate Horror Stories That Won't Die: The Case of the Pika (Stewart, 2015)

Guest essay by Jim Steele,

Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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Because most people can’t fathom how 0.8 degrees of warming over a century can be lethal compared to far greater changes [on] a daily and seasonal basis, advocates of CO2 warming have littered the media and scientific literature with apocryphal stories statistically linking cherry-picked data with that small temperature rise and suggest wide spread future extinctions (i.e. Polar Bears, Walrus, Emperor Penguins, Edith Checkerspot, Moose, Golden Toad ). Pikas are another species that have been repeatedly targeted as an icon of impending climate doom. Pikas, or boulder bunnies, inhabit talus slopes (boulder fields) throughout western North America’s mountainous regions. Some suggest warming has been driving pikas up the mountain slopes, and they will soon be driven over the edge into the extinction abyss.

The doomsday stories of the pikas’ “impending extinction” began with a few contentious papers by Dr. Erik Beever. He re-surveyed a small subset of Nevada’s pika populations and reported 28% (7 of 25) of pika territories, which had been occupied at the beginning of the 20th century, were now vacant. He suggested those 7 populations had gone extinct possibly due to climate change. That claim was then trumpeted by groups like the National Wildlife Federation with articles like “No Room at the Top.”

As they had done for polar bears and penguins, the Center of Biological Diversity argued climate change sued for pikas to be listed as federally endangered once, and as California endangered twice. The CBD alarmingly exaggerated Beever’s small survey to falsely report, “We’ve already lost almost half of the pikas that once inhabited the Great Basin.” But to the credit of official wildlife experts, they rejected those lawsuits due to insufficient evidence. Dismayed that bad science had been rejected, the CBD called Obama a denier and Joe Romm bemoaned, “So long pika, we hardly knew ya.”

Now once again, dubious science is pushing pikas as another canary in the climate coal mine. [Although] the evidence has not supported the pika’s demise, Stewart (2015) constructed a model that would and published their projections in Revisiting The Past To Foretell The Future: Summer Temperature And Habitat Area Predict Pika Extirpations In California. These researchers predict “that by 2070 pikas will be extirpated from “39% to 88%” of California’s historical sites.” And once again the media is hyping that pikas are being pushed up the mountains to their doom.

In contrast to the hype, Dr. Andrew Smith, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature pika expert, has testified that pikas are thriving in California and should not be listed. Although an avid defender of the Endangered Species Act, he argued that incorrectly listing the pika as endangered (see his letter here) would only subject the ESA to greater criticism and denigrate conservation science.

Due to possible climate change concerns, the US Forest Service was obligated to extensively survey pika habitat throughout the national forests of the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin. Supporting Dr. Smith’s views, in 2010 they too reported thriving pikas. Overall, only 6% of observed pika territories were vacant. Due to the lack of connectivity with other pika territories, when a pika dies the smaller more isolated territories suffer longer periods of vacancy. Accordingly, the USFS reported that vacancy rates increased as surveys moved from the Sierra Nevada with its large interconnected talus slopes to more isolated habitat in the Great Basin. In the Sierra Nevada the vacancy rate was just 2%, in the southwestern Great Basin vacancies increased to 17%, and vacancies were highest, 50%, in more isolated habitat of the central Great Basin ranges. The larger percentage of unoccupied sites east of the Sierra Nevada crest was typically due to the greater difficulty of finding and re‑colonizing relatively small and isolated habitat.

USFS surveys provided more damning evidence that would lead to rejecting the CBD’s lawsuits. The benchmark for wildlife abundance and distribution in California had been Joseph Grinnell’s surveys from the early 1900s. Contrary to global warming theory, the USFS survey found many new active pika colonies several hundred meters lower than Grinnell had documented. In total, 19% of the currently known populations are at lower elevations than ever documented by any study during the cooler 1900s. Further north in the Columbia River Gorge, another independent researcher also found pikas at much lower elevations, surviving at temperatures much higher than the models had predicted.

Beever’s 2011 paper tried to counter those findings by arguing there was a nearly “five-fold increase in the rate of local extinctions and an 11-fold increase in the rate of upslope range retraction during the last ten years.” But Beever had badly manipulated his data. Surveying his 25 sites, he too had found 10 examples where pikas now inhabited lower elevations than previously documented. But he decided not to use those observations in his calculations. He, the editors and peer-reviewers unapologetically published his biased calculations to create his “11-fold increase in the rate of upslope range retraction”. Beever defended this statistical blasphemy by arguing pikas had likely always lived at those lower elevations, but had escaped detection by earlier observers (the equivalent of climate science infilling). Perhaps. It was possible. But by eliminating all new observations of pikas at warmer, lower elevations, he guaranteed their statistical upslope retreat.

Here’s an example of his calculations: At Cougar Peak, a 1925 record documented the lowest elevation that pikas had inhabited was 2416 meters. Beever’s more recent surveys detected pikas living even lower on Cougar Peak at 2073 meters in the late 1990s, and at 2222 metes in follow‑up surveys in 2003. Despite the fact that recent observations were all lower than 1925 by about 200 meters, Beever ignored the historical record. He simply subtracted the 1990s elevation from the 2003 elevation, to report climate had pushed pikas 149 meters higher. Furthermore, the Cougar Peak site was one of the sites Beever had initially reported as extinct. Follow-up surveys found a robust population.

Vacant pika territories are natural and to be expected. Pika are very territorial and each year they drive their young away. Because pika live no longer than 7 years, (averaging 3 to 4 years in the wild), there is constant turnover at each site. A site remains vacant until a young pika, driven from another territory, randomly scampers into that vacancy and claims ownership. Without knowing how often a talus pile alternates between occupied and vacant, simply reporting observations of a vacant site tells us nothing about 1) why it is vacant, 2) when it was vacated, and 3) if it will soon be recolonized. Unfortunately vacancies have been misleadingly called extinctions. To illustrate, in the most recent paper by Stewart, his team initially found 15 vacancies, but a re‑survey the following year, found that 5 of those sites were now re‑colonized, a 33% reduction in “extinct locations” in just one year.

Re‑colonization has similarly undermined other classic doomsday stories. Parmesan’s iconic 1996 paper reported global warming had increased extinctions for the Edith’s Checkerspot butterfly, but most of those extinct colonies in the Sierra Nevada have now been re‑colonized. Unfortunately the re‑colonization information was never published. (read here and here).

The IUCN’s Dr. Andrew Smith is the only researcher with results from long term pika monitoring that actually provides insight into the natural frequency of “extinction” and re‑colonization.

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In California’s abandoned desert mining town of Bodie, pika have colonized discarded ore piles. Dr. Smith tracked the vacancy rates of 76 ore piles from 1972 to 2009. As expected, during those 37 years Smith observed 107 local extinctions, balanced by 106 re-colonizations. Like pika habitat elsewhere in the Great Basin, on average 30% of the ore piles were unoccupied at any given time, but that vacancy rate was highly variable. Some years the vacancy rate was as high as 52%, and other years as low as 11% (see chart below). In his first survey in 1972, Smith found that 82.3% of the ore piles were occupied by pika. In 2009, pika again occupied 82.8% of their possible sites. Coincidentally Stewart (2015) found 85% (57/67) of his re-surveyed sites are now occupied. Without accounting for such a wide range of variability, the percentage of vacant territories tells us precious little about any climate effects. But in contrast to Smith’s analysis, Stewart presented vacant territories as evidence of global warming caused “extinctions”.

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Although Smith’s research establishes a natural frequency of vacancy rates, it still doesn’t tell us why a site became vacant. In Beever’s 2003 paper, the seven “extinct” sites he attributed to climate change had other more plausible explanations. One site had half of the talus removed for road maintenance, another site had become a dump site, and a third site had scattered shotgun shells throughout the talus.

Like rabbits, and a truly endangered species of pika in China, pikas have been hunted and poisoned because they compete with livestock for vegetation. All of Beever’s extinct sites were heavily grazed. Furthermore pikas do not hibernate. They create hay piles to sustain them through the winter. Any significant loss of vegetation will likely cause pikas to abandon their talus. Although studies have reported significant effects from grazing competition, Stewart (2015) did not include grazing as a variable in his climate change model.

Stewart (2015) created a model that only included 1) area of talus and 2) summer mean temperature as the determinants of local pika extinctions. Assuming that model represents reality, they then argued that according to projected warming from CO2 driven models, pika will become increasingly “extirpated from 39% to 88% of these historical sites”.

But talus area is the more critical variable, and the average summer temperature is highly questionable. Larger talus areas sustain more pika territories, and provide protection for dispersing young looking for vacancies. With more adjacent territories, there are more young pika who can immediately occupy any abandoned territory. In contrast the smallest talus areas, often sustaining just a single territory, are islands that lack connectivity to other territories. Vacant territories must wait to be randomly colonized by dispersing young from some distance talus. As the distance between isolated territories increases it is less likely that randomly dispersing young will re‑colonize a vacated territory. But the degree of connectivity was also never considered in Stewart’s model. As seen in his diagram below (I added the red lines for reference), the vacancies can be readily explained just by the talus area and random dispersal.

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If the size of the talus area had been modeled as the only predictor of pika vacancies, any large talus area, (areas above the upper red line), would correctly predict full occupancy, accounting for 31% of the sites (20 of 67), regardless of temperature. Small talus area (areas below the lower red line) would correctly account for 70% of the vacancies (7 of 10 vacancies) regardless of temperature. In talus of intermediate areas, only 7% of the sites were vacant (3 of 39) which is close to the overall 6% finding of the USFS surveys. That 7% vacancy rate is easily accounted for by random extinction/colonization events, and the percentage is far better than vacancy rates Dr. Smith reported for Bodie’s ore piles.

The higher temperatures reported at the 3 vacancies with intermediate talus areas may have been the result of a more barren dry landscape typical of the eastside of the Sierra Nevada. If so, lack of food, not higher temperatures may be the critical factor. Stewart never asks if the vacancies are due to higher temperatures, less reliable vegetation, or distance from other territories. Stewart’s model statistically linked higher temperatures to pika vacancies, but that link depends on what sites he includes or omits in his database.

Beever’s data had similarly suggested higher temperatures were killing pika, but his analysis excluded data from nearby populations thriving at warmer and lower elevations just 93 miles away from 71% of Beever’s extinct sites. At Lava Beds pika were flourishing at an average elevation 900 feet lower than the average elevation of three nearby extinct sites. Temperatures at Lava Beds also averaged an additional 3.6°F higher, and precipitation was 24% less. But Beever analyzed those sites separately. Likewise Stewart was clearly more interested in a connection to global warming. In his introduction he speculated, “climate change forces range contractions, species may effectively be ‘pushed off’ the tops of mountains by warming climate.” He also referenced Parmesan’s bad climate science connection for support. To create a link to global warming, Stewart needed to use average summer temperature as the other model variable.

During high temperatures, heat-sensitive pika will seek refuge beneath the cooler talus. However Stewart argues such behavior reduces critical foraging time and thus possibly reduces winter survival. Perhaps. During extreme warm days, pika are known to become crepuscular, restricting their foraging to the twilight hours. However if that is the key mechanism, then using the average temperature is simply wrong. The average temperature is amplified by minimum temperatures of the early morning when overheating is not a problem. If Stewart was sincerely concerned about induced heat stress, then the correct metric would be the afternoon maximum temperatures. But maximums were not even considered in Stewart’s choice of models.

Not considering maximum temperatures would seem shamefully negligent, but Stewart was aware that other studies had already determined no correlation with maximum temperatures. Stewart referenced Beever (2010) who wrote, ““Although pikas have been shown to perish quickly when experimentally subjected to high temperatures, our metric of acute heat stress was the poorest predictor of pika extirpations.” Because maximum temperatures had revealed no acute heat stress, Beever adopted the term “chronic heat stress” which was just a more alarming way to say the average temperature. But even using average temperature, Beever still concluded, “Climate change metrics were by far the poorest predictor of pika extirpation.” Stewart’s own data supported the conclusion that climate metrics provided poor explanatory power.

Stewart also cherry-picked a start date to argue, “documented 1°C increases in California-wide summer temperature over the past century, strongly suggest that pikas have experienced climate-mediated range contraction in California over the past century.” However if one examines the data Stewart links to for northeastern California, where most of their “extinctions” were observed, recent summer maximum temperatures have not exceeded the 1920s and 30s. If pika extinctions were truly “climate-mediated”, then the high temperatures of the 20s and 30s should have been the main driver. Furthermore during that 20s and 30s, pika experienced the most rapid temperature increases of about 2°C (4°F) in just 3 decades.

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Stewart made one more feeble attempt to justify using average summer temperatures. He reported that a 2005 paper by Grayson revealed pika have been forced to move ever upwards as climate warmed throughout the Holocene. (See graph below) But Stewart seems unaware that he damaged is own argument. Several studies, using proxies and models, have shown the Great Basin was warmer during the Middle Holocene by 1 to 2.5°C. Using Stewart’s logic, as global warming approaches temperatures seen in the mid Holocene, pika should descend to lower elevations.

Although summer temperature data has very little predictive power regards pika biology, it was Stewart’s only link to CO2 climate models. Using that dubious link to summer [temperatures], he projects impending climate doom and widespread pika extinctions. But if Stewart was truly concerned about preserving pikas, instead of preserving CO2 theory, then all the data suggests small talus areas that are subjected to grazing are the relevant concern. To protect the pikas’ forage, simply fencing off livestock from the edge of those small talus slopes would be a simple affordable solution. Stewart’s own data also suggests, along with the USFS surveys, that wherever there is large talus area, there has been nothing to suggest imminent extinctions. So why does the pikas’ climate change extinction story persist?

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136 thoughts on “Climate Horror Stories That Won't Die: The Case of the Pika (Stewart, 2015)

  1. Re: New Mexico: “And in a few places, pikas confound conventional knowledge – they found at low elevations and do well in the warmer temperatures.”
    and
    “The pika was recently proposed for inclusion on the list of endangered species, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that endangered status is not warranted at this time. Why? Because the scientific information about pikas is not yet clear.”
    http://www.seventh-generation.org/the-new-mexico-pika-monitoring-project/

    • In a few minutes more found this: http://dnr.state.co.us/newsapp/press.asp?pressid=9101 (Colorado). Montana just starting up a project.
      This in Idaho: “Historically, the pika’s range reached north into British Columbia, the northern edge of their habitat today. Craters of the Moon is among the lowest elevation sites where pikas survive today. And their ability to thrive there remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists.
      Beever began scouring the terrain of the national monument for pika colonies in 1995.
      He expected to find them near the numerous caves, where temperatures are cool enough to allow ice to remain year-round.
      Instead, he found pikas spread all across the area.” (2007) http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/pika-flourish-in-idaho-s-craters-of-the-moon-decline/article_63470def-d35c-5db4-bd23-10bc8b541f56.html
      Looks like we’re just starting to study and learn about this critter.

      • Abstract – 2008
        American Pikas (Ochotona princeps) in Northwestern Nevada: A Newly Discovered Population at a Low-elevation Site
        Erik A. Beever1,5, Jenifer L. Wilkening2, Donald E. McIvor3, Shana S. Weber4, and Peter F. Brussard2
        …..Results presented here further illustrate that although thermal influences appear to be the single strongest determinant of pika distribution currently, such influences interact with a number of other factors to determine persistence.
        http://dx.doi.org/10.3398/1527-0904(2008)68%5B8:APOPIN%5D2.0.CO;2

        Thermal tolerance?

        Abstract – 2010
        Distribution and Climatic Relationships of the American Pika (Ochotona princeps) in the Sierra Nevada and Western Great Basin, U.S.A.; Periglacial Landforms as Refugia in Warming Climates
        ……….Average minimum temperatures for old sites were not significantly different from recent sites, whereas average maximum temperatures were significantly higher in old sites. Unusual features of RIF landforms make them important refugia for pikas as climates warm. In contrast to studies that document species vulnerability elsewhere, pikas in the SN and swGB appear to be thriving and tolerating a wide range of thermal environments.
        http://dx.doi.org/10.1657/1938-4246-42.1.76

    • Holy cow!

      Abstract – 2010
      Influence of Domestic Livestock Grazing on American Pika (Ochotona princeps) Haypiling behavior in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and Great Basin
      ……………..Because domestic livestock grazing is widely permitted on public lands throughout pika habitat in the Great Basin but not permitted (or much more restricted) in pika habitat of the Sierra Nevada, California, grazing effects might be contributing to observed regional differences in viability of pikas.
      http://dx.doi.org/10.3398/064.071.0311

      • Spread of non- indigenous species.
        “Non-native plant species are also spreading across the American pika’s habitat, partially due to human-caused wildfires, which may reduce the amount of food available to this species (1)”

    • Since Figure 3 shows Pikas elevation changing thousands of years before CO2 became an issue, there is NO WAY that CO2 can be the cause of the change.
      One might just as well argue that it was the changing elevation in Pikas habitat that cause rising levels of CO2, because the Pikas changed first and therefore MUST BE the cause of rising CO2.

      • Fredberple and Jimbo,
        Thank you for you additions. I learn much about much here.
        Fredberple, I’m working on that whole Pika’s cause CO2 thingy and having doubts. Methane, however…………:)

  2. Misquoting Mark Twain
    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and climate science.”

  3. Beware arguments based on, “We don’t know so we must do something I have imagined.”

  4. So…..in a nutshell….another “it must be global warming because we haven’t done diligence properly, or we have but support another agenda with misleading conclusions , or we just don’t know” scenario. Thankfully people such as you see through the bs but I worry that nobody is listening that should be.

  5. Life is tenacious.
    Life adapts. Ho hum.
    Still waiting for someone to prove human CO2 emisions will affect the climate in some substantial way.
    Seems extensive logging/deforestation is potentially equally culpable for any temp rise.

    • Indeed dave. Even if co2 is a major factor when you look at how much co2 moves through the landscape and how much lands (especially peat bogs which several countries drain and use as fuel) it would look like land use changes would have had a bigger impact then fossil fuel usage on ghg levels. Another little side note Ive never heard mentioned is fish stocks. The faster fish eat algae, the more it will grow assuming conditions are ripe for it to bloom. some portion of which will die, and we have many regions with much lower then previous fish levels, so this is also something that potentially is altering ghg levels, that unless I missed it was never even looked at.

  6. This is an interesting article but really needs a good proof reading and correction for missing/misplaced/incomplete text. It does make me wonder what California might do if there is another LIA event. Would they legislate against going into an LIA event as hard as they are about us coming out of the most recent one? Are they trying to convince us that the pika crop in the loony state was always in place as they exist today for the the previous 5 decades regardless of recent past climate fluctuations?
    Well, yes. They are and they obviously think pika populations don’t respond to the natural variations that actually put them where they are a very long time ago. I’m willing to let them become an independent single-party nation of slobbering guilt-ridden liberals with no representation in the affairs of the 49 remaining united states.

    • Yes. First sentence presumably should read “…far greater changes on a daily and seasonal basis”?

  7. Thanks again, Dr. Steele for the lesson of how tendentious “science” has been employed to serve the cause, and how wrong-headed and just plain wrong it is.

  8. So let me see if I am following: as a result of cAGW every species will die off … except homo warmunum alarmerae, which will blanket the earth like kudzu.
    I vote for the former.

  9. If I found a pika on my proprty, I would treat it like the rodent it is.
    Rodents adapt, those who do they breed, their off-spring breed, adapt or perish, repeat, n –> in infinitum.

    • Hi joe,we don’t have pikas in NZ,but we do have rats. To give you an idea how rats adapt,we had an abattoir in our town. The meat was stored in huge insulated coolers. The rats nested in the insulation,making their nests in contact with parts of the chillers. When the factory closed,and all buildings chillers etc. were removed,rats were found to have grown long hair to live in the conditions. Under normal conditions here,rats normally have short hair. So I would imagine most rodents have the ability to adapt to all kinds of conditions.

      • I can’t see how NZ could have indigenous rats, at least not Murid rats (the main Asian group). This is in contrast to Australia, where there are 3 separate radiations, each of which originated when there was a land bridge between New Guinea and Australia. So the rats you’re talking about most probably are Norway rats or black rats, which are cosmopolitan species.
        A very nice article. I have only two points to add.
        (1) Although I haven’t studied small mammals in the field myself, from everything I’ve gathered, localized small mammal populations are constantly crashing due to one change or another in the environment. (Obviously, life is tough in the wild!) Unfortunately, this makes them ‘easy prey’ for contemporary environmental doom-mongers who just have to cherry-pick their data, as these examples indicate.
        (2) This shows once again that, contrary to some comments I’ve seen (including one above), the contemporary rot (or postnormality) in science isn’t restricted to one rogue field. Instead, there are Pod People all over the place.

  10. Adapt of Die.
    Pica’s need food, water and shelter. That’s all. they don’t give a wit about CO2.

    • Pica’s eat many kinds of plants. Increasing CO2 results in those plants doing better which means pica’s have more food.

  11. Dr. Steele,
    Thank you for your excellent dissection and critical analysis of this disingenuous fiction dressed up as ‘science’! It should be a case study that all high school and college students are required to read and discuss, as a primer for critical review of any technical paper, article, or news story.
    Most instructive, m’thinks!
    I noted one ‘typo’ in the paragraph immediately before Figure 3: Using that dubious link to summer temepartures,….
    Best regards,
    Mac
    [Corrected. Thank you. .mod]

  12. American Pikas are featured in essay No Bodies in ebook Blowing Smoke. They served as one of several anecdotal preludes to the complete deconstruction of the AR4 climate extinction alarm.
    Everything Dr. Steele says in this post is correct. The warmunist pika ‘science’ is even more distorted than he has politely portrayed. See essay for details.
    And the big biological picture is also much more distorted than he has portrayed. Current EPA Pika website versus legally binding FWD findings being just one of many examples.
    Much more in essay No Bodies, which mainly exposes how IPCC AR4 used selection bias and official final figure misrepresentations to sort to just one fatally flawed paper to make all of its extinction predictions/prognostications/ whatevers…
    Clear evidence of bias and worse, using only AR4 final official charts plus a bit of fact checking.

  13. Pika’s are neat little creatures. Fun to watch on an afternoon in the mountains, along with Marmots … which have been used in similar fashion by the CAGW crowd.

  14. Well, are they good to eat? That seems to be the only question not answered in this article. Enjoyable reading when bad science is exposed. I think I will send it to my son, the Economics professor who is filling young heads with mush.

  15. Thank you Dr. Steele for this very informative essay. We regularly encounter pikas when we climb in Colorado. I appreciate the opportunity to see them. I believe I will take the time to notice where and when I see them in the future. Frankly, I never once thought they were ever in danger of anything given where they live. There is such a large range of temperature on those talus slopes, I find it difficult to imagine that they can’t find some part of the day when it is cool enough to forage even at the hottest temperatures of the year.

    • i figured somebody’d say that, but they’re getting harder to find, too, with shaving so popular.

  16. Dumb question:
    How do you know you haven’t counted the same pika more than once?
    Do they all wear name tags and photo ID’s?

    • Most pika studies simply determine presence or absence, not total abundance. I have done both bird and pika surveys that relied on mostly on sound. You can mentally map where there sound is coming from and reliably determine how many are vocalizing. A short time between different vocalizations allows you to determine how many individuals are vocalizing vs the likelihood of one individual moving around. Still you never know how many are quiet.
      The only alternative is to do a more time-demanding mark and recapture study that estimates abundance. I have never done such a study for pika, and I am unaware of any such a study. Mark and recapture studies are commonly done for birds (which I did for 20 years) and bears (never did) but the analyses is the same and I have discussed the mechanics of such a study in “How Science Counts Bears” available at http://landscapesandcycles.net/how-science-counts-bears.html

    • undersized rabbit………………..
      see above by DMA
      February 4, 2015 at 8:47 pm
      Pika is not a rodent-it’s a lagomorph (rabbit)

  17. Great essay- thanks!
    We don’t have pikas in Oz, but similar methodologies have been used here for bird populations which are allegedly becoming “locally extinct.”
    Of course it usually turns out that they have just moved on somewhere else.

  18. “We don’t have pikas in Oz, but similar methodologies have been used here for bird populations which are allegedly becoming “locally extinct.”
    Johanna……….what we have to count bird populations is Richard Kingston’s light plane fly overs, which supposedly tell us each year what Australia’s bird numbers are……..If any one can tell me how you can count birds from a light plane, I am all ears…………

    • “If any one can tell me how you can count birds from a light plane, I am all ears”
      It’s actually very simple. Just count the number of wings, then divide by two. It’s extremely accurate too.

  19. Mmmm…Pika. Tastes just like rabbit. Or maybe prairie dog.
    I normally ignore these “some biologist says” articles, but this one was great. Now…how about those Humbolt squid the taxpayer NEEDS to know about.

  20. Jim Steele
    Many thanks for your interesting and informative article which I enjoyed reading.
    For me, this extract summarised the entire message of the article.

    As seen in his diagram below (I added the red lines for reference), the vacancies can be readily explained just by the talus area and random dispersal.
    If the size of the talus area had been modeled as the only predictor of pika vacancies, any large talus area, (areas above the upper red line), would correctly predict full occupancy, accounting for 31% of the sites (20 of 67), regardless of temperature. Small talus area (areas below the lower red line) would correctly account for 70% of the vacancies (7 of 10 vacancies) regardless of temperature. In talus of intermediate areas, only 7% of the sites were vacant (3 of 39) which is close to the overall 6% finding of the USFS surveys. That 7% vacancy rate is easily accounted for by random extinction/colonization events, and the percentage is far better than vacancy rates Dr. Smith reported for Bodie’s ore piles.

    Emphasis added: RSC
    Richard

  21. Isn’t it time these people, who willfully deceive the public are prosecuted for fraud? Those people who are found guilty should never then receive a government grant.

    • Perhaps they should do as they do in many sports just add an asterisk to each paper and to any paper citing a paper with an asterisk. Then state that the results of any asterisked paper are to be used with caution as they may not be valid. Should be easy to do with the modern citation tracing systems and far more public and salutary effect.

  22. “Although pikas have been shown to perish quickly when experimentally subjected to high temperatures, our metric of acute heat stress was the poorest predictor of pika extirpations.”
    Do I even want to know about these ‘experiments’?

  23. Off thread, but in The Times (UK) today there is a Headline that says deaths have risen during the recent cold snap by 32%, compared to the same period over the past five years.
    The extent to which a flu outbreak has contributed to this is currently unknown, but the ability to keep warm is crucial and a vast number of people in the UK cannot afford to do this, due in part to a ludicrous Green energy policy that has hiked prices in the name of controlling AGW!
    A couple of degrees of rapid global warming would be just what the Doctor ordered. Pity it isn’t happening.

    • The Uk has a number of issues that contribute to high numbers of preamature deaths in the winter season particularly amongst the old and vulnerable. Main amongst these are the old housing stock which tends to be damp, cold and difficult to heat, the lowest pension amongst the western European countries, (ie., those that are not former Eastern European/Soviet block), and high energy prices (particularly in relation to low pension income).
      Since 2000, CET winter temps (ie., the Dec, Jan, Feb season) has fallen by almost 1.5degC. It is (presently) terending colder in teh UK (and probably also in other Northern European countries, at least on the West side of Europe). This coupled with higher energy costs, which have significantly increased these past 14 years well above the rate at which most old people’s pensions have grown, has led to a significant rise in premature winter deaths. In some recent years this has been by about 40,000 a year (for example the particularly cold winters of 2009/10 ans 2010/11).
      Over 50% of the electric bill is made up of charges directly referrable to the UK governments green policy. Less than 50% of the bill pertains to the cost of supply, and even this element is higher than it need be since suppliers are forced to purchase a percentage of their energy sourced from renewables at a base rate far higher than the cost referable to energy produced from coal or gas. About 25% of the bill is made up of infrasture costs/renewals. This is mainly erecting windfarms and coupling those windfarms to the grid, but also includes coupling standby emergency diesel powered generators to the grid, and rebalancing costs and expenses. The other 25% is made up of carbon taxes, green subsidies/taxes (such as funding schemes to help people insulat their homes, boiler replacements etc0 and assisting those in fuel poverty. i do notknow whether that 25% covers the costs of bad debts since this too is an expense for the electrical supply companies and bad debts are higher than they would otherwaise be directly because of high energy bills and fuel poverty (if energy bills were halved, bad debts would be reduced by much more than half, they might even be reduced by 80% or so since it is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back).
      Gas bills are perhaps inflated by about 10% or so by the government’s green energy policy since renewables (wind solar0 have not caused the gas industry to make the infrastructure changes, nor has the high cost of electricity from such sources impacted upon the supply cost for gas, and of course gas bills are higher than electricity bills so the sums that go to subsidies for home insulation/boiler replacement and helping those in fuel poverty is a lower percentage of the overall bill).
      The upshot of the above is that if the government were to change tack and scrap the drive towards renewables, energy brices would fall by about 30%, if one relies solely on electricity as much as 50%. This would have a significant impact.
      There can be little doubt that the government’s policy (promoted by the greens) is directly responsible for thousands of premature winter deaths, but the politicians have not investigated the consequences of their policy, do not wish to ask difficult questions that may reveal;inconvenient answers and wish to keep everything under the rug (just like the NHS South Staffordshire scandal, and the like).
      The politicians and those that have promoted the policy that has led to this dramatic rise in energy costs really should be held accountable for the impact of their policies. It is a disgrace that they are not held to account.

      • Age concern recently estimated that up to 5000 deaths from cold a winter month in UK are caused by energy poverty. This is more than three times the number that die on the UK roads in a year. If the number of deaths from cold was to be announced as the number of deaths from road accidents, there would be questions asked in parliament, inquiries, and headline news for months. But as its only the poor and vulnerable dying, literally nobody appears to care. The pikas have had far more support for a spurious problem than the elderly in UK for a real problem.

      • Thing to do is cut down a few of the King’s forrests, and make a fire to keep warm.
        They have this invention called a chainsaw. Works real good.

  24. But he decided not to use those observations in his calculations. He, the editors and peer-reviewers unapologetically published his biased calculations to create his “11-fold increase in the rate of upslope range retraction”.

    It’s always brave to use the word “retraction” in a paper. But possibly an idea worth considering.
    That pika is so cute.

  25. I am sorry that Beever did not consider the social aspects of pika colonies. Had he done so, he would surely have noted the survival-rate distinction between Plebeian Pikas (lower slopes) and Elite Pikas (upper slopes). I would guess, however, that he did not type his article on a typewriter.

  26. I think the first sentence has a typo. It goes ” Because most people can’t fathom how 0.8 degrees of warming over a century can be lethal compared to far greater changes no a daily and seasonal basis … ” I think the author meant “changes on a daily …”
    ~ Mark

  27. My question is: Do they taste good dipped in milk and egg wash, rolled in flour and fried in a cast iron skillet?

  28. Man made global warming killed the dinosaurs.
    No doubt about it. 😉
    PS does any palaeontologist have a figure for how many species had become extinct prior to mankind’s arrival on the planet? and if so how many species a year becoming extinct is so to speak ‘normal’.

  29. The American Pikas, snuggled away in their talus cosies, breathe a collective sigh of relief as the search for a verifiable victim of climate change continues.
    Any victim would do! Alarmists aren’t picky.

  30. Pica Pica is Latin I believe for the Magpie.
    Which means to eat any thing.
    To me awhile to work out why my x-wife called magpie.

  31. …and a third site had scattered shotgun shells throughout the talus.

    There you have it! Obviously an AGW extinction! The little bunnies were ravaged by a horde of starving, heat crazed climate refugees…
    (Although, with the price of shotgun shells these days, why didn’t they just buy a steak?)

    • Hunters would have killed off the Pikas at lower elevations first, to save themselves the walk uphill. Especially a dangerous walk uphill in the loose rocks that make up talus. Introduced animals such as feral dogs and cat would similarly preferentially hunt Pikas at lower elevations, and other introduced animals such as cattle, sheep and rats would preferentially compete with Pikas for food at lower elevations.
      Thus it is more reasonable to attribute any die off of Pikas at lower elevations to preferential predation and/or food competition by land based animals, especially any introduced species.

      • Excellent point. But don’t forget the re-introduced species: wolves, etc. And the fact that the coyote population is again growing. Any population estimate of pretty much any prey animal in the Western US will be skewed from the “natural state” by the changing population of predators, who were aggressively hunted, trapped and poisoned from aprox mid 19th century until late 20th century.
        Total speculation here, but it seems possible that the little critters adapted to the high country as a predator avoidance strategy (most predators, as you suggest, being opportunistic), then with the artificial predator reduction of the 19th & 20th centuries rapidly moved lower (where they were seen in the early 20th) and are now retreating back uphill as predator populations increase again. Speculation, but IMHO a lot more probable than a degree or two killing them all off.
        http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2014/12/16/first-puma-found-kentucky-since-civil-war/20487277/

    • Have you seen the price of beef? It’s what happens when you force people to burn the cow’s food in their cars.

  32. “In California’s abandoned desert mining town of Bodie ….”. Oh no! Humans are becoming extinct in California. Surely they cannot have just moved away because the mines ran dry? Perhaps if we remove all residents of L.A., the pikas will find a new home there.

  33. “Beever defended this statistical blasphemy by arguing pikas had likely always lived at those lower elevations, but had escaped detection by earlier observers (the equivalent of climate science infilling).”
    With that logic, I believe it is safe to say that white Europeans inhabited North America long before Native Americans, but because they escaped detection we incorrectly assume Native Americans were here first.

    • white Europeans inhabited North America long before Native Americans

      Currently theories are that humans settled the America’s from Asia less than 20 thousand years ago, crossing over on a land bridge at the end of the last Ice Age. As a result, no one gets funding to dig below 20 thousand years ago looking for evidence of humans, because according to theory they cannot exist.
      However, there are a few sites that have been investigated that show humans inhabited the Americas at lest as far back as 60 thousand years ago. If correct, then land claims worth many billions of dollars are at risk.
      The Asians that settled the Americas at the end of the Ice Ages would not be Native Americans. Rather they would be an introduced species, brought to the Americas by people from Asia. And the original Native Americans, the true owners of the land, they are the ones with the land claims. However, they no longer exist, as the introduced species from Asia took over the territory of the Native Americans, as often happens with introduced species.

    • There is no evidence whatsoever for “native” Americans. Ferd is correct in that all hominidae occupying the Americas are invasive species as there is no evidence that any branch evolved here.

      • I didn’t see the need to go any further up than the family classification since every organism classified as “human” is a member of that family… unless you are counting New World Monkeys as “native” Americans.

  34. “So why does the pikas’ climate change extinction story persist?”
    Because the idea fits the narrative even if the data does not.
    Same answer as to why the one about Polar Bears, unprecedented loss of Arctic Sea ice, increased hurricane activity, etc. persists.
    The wrong answer: “the planet has a feeever” just sounds better to the uninformed masses.

  35. “But he decided not to use those observations in his calculations.”
    Jim, you are a master!! Tossing this egregious fact off in such a low key manner, causes the reader to become even more blown away!! I’m an engineer and I surely wouldn’t still be one if I ever did such a thing! I have called for the need for state associations of scientists created under statute with ethics clauses with saber-toothed teeth in them. In Canada and the US, there are state/provincial associations of engineers set up under the Engineering Act or some such. These are run by engineers (not government) and they have a severe set of guidelines that not only have a disciplinary committee that can take your license away from you, but they also prescribe continuing education – a minimum number of hours among several categories (voluntary at the moment in Canada but this about to change – Association of Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, I think Fall this year). You have to report each year upon renewal fee payment on the number of hours of continuing professional development (tougher on a guy like me beyond the three quarter century mark who’s still in the business) and keep a file for potential auditing. Regarding the disciplinary part, as an engineer, you are obliged to report any incompetent or potentially fraudulent work by other engineers or you can be disciplined, too if you ignore it.
    The rationale, of course, is because an incompetent engineer (or fraudulent one) can end up killing people or causing economic loss. I submit that climate scientists are now killing people and causing great economic loss on a huge scale (come to think of it, if the perp is a geoscientist, he can be reported!). The engineer can make a mistake, these guys are doing it deceitfully for money, career and fame without regard for the horrid cost and other consequences to society. Dishonest engineers exist but are comparatively rare.
    “…pika have colonized discarded ore piles. Dr. Smith tracked the vacancy rates of 76 ore piles from 1972 to 2009…”
    Gee, we in the mining business get a lot of flack for disturbing the planet. I like this part of the story.

    • You are confusing climate scientists with scientists concerned with robust scientific principle and practice. Climate scientists if not politicians masquerading as scientists are more entwined with politics than science.
      Politicians, for all the dishonesty and harm they are capable of and actually do, do not have a politician ethics board. For that reason there will never be an ethics or competency board for climate scientists.

  36. Excellentarticle. thanks. Fortunately we don’t have pica on the eastern side of the continent.
    My editor’s eyes found a case of no closing quote: “that by 2070 pikas will be extirpated from “39% to 88%” of California’s historical sites. And once again the media is hyping that pikas are being pushed up the mountains to their doom.

  37. I hit the Enter key and off went my posting before I have finished or corrected it…… Here is what I had intended to send:
    ******
    Excellent article. Thanks. Fortunately we don’t have pika on the eastern side of the continent.
    My editor’s eyes found a case of no closing quote: “that by 2070 pikas will be extirpated from “39% to 88%” of California’s historical sites. And once again the media is hyping that pikas are being pushed up the mountains to their doom.
    I presume that the closing quote (“) should be after “sites”. And just to be really picky, within ordinary quote marks (double verticals, as “) should be followed by single verticals (‘) within the original quote. (I have just finished a novel and this is one of the few things that I can say that I know…..)
    Ian M
    [Added. .mod]

  38. While I have my editor’s hat on, please change “wont” in the heading to “won’t”.
    I presume that this is something that comes with the transcription software.
    Ian M

  39. But what a minute here. The evidence is irrefutable.
    Pikas are cute and we have climate and weather and stuff. This is a huge problem. Well a huge problem at least for the people who invested in the “Save the Pika” stuffed animal start-ups.

  40. My own observation is Pikas are negatively impacted when snow melts late. If they can’t get out and about, and have their various openings, they will starve. The worst time for starvation is Spring / Summer given they were not able to eat during the Winter. If they can’t bulk up by a certain date (in my book, mid May) they face trouble. Big snow = starving Pikas.

    • James that’ a good observation. In the Sierra Nevada, the El Nino/PIneapple Express years deliver very deep snows that cover the talus and surroundings until late Jully and even August. Dr. Andrew Smith told me about a territory he observed after the heavy snows in 2010. The territory was so deeply covered in snow he was sure there would not be enough time for pika to collect ample vegetation for their winter hay piles. He also lamented if that the resulting vacancy was viewed years later it would be blamed on global warming.

  41. Pikas are to be observed at near tidewater elevation next to the Columbia River at Multnomah Falls. Perhaps 250 to 350 feet. They have a charming and urgent call from their talus stone porches, “EEEEEE!”
    They are found 2 or three switchbacks above the walking bridge. They are likely delicious and subject to predation by dogs and coyotes. The more people around the more dogs and coyotes and perhaps less Pikas. The warmer’s story is entirely woven bovine scat.

    • This is porn, but not of the naked women variety.
      You’re welcome to try and find it elsewhere.
      The series title is: All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, and the above is episode 2.
      Frankly I consider Fox and CNN much more porn-like 🙂

    • There is no “theory of ecology”. Are you saying that studies of “the distribution and aboundance” of animals and other organisms doesn’t count as science? Do we throw away the competitive exclusion principle, the idea of carrying capacity, studies of food chains and food webs, studies of material flows through the environment etc,, etc., etc., etc.?

  42. Two things.
    1) I want to add my thanks to Jim for another interesting and informative article. Are you collecting all these in a book somewhere?
    2) I had hoped the “canary in the coal mine” analogy had not previously been applied to Pikas, so Jimbo would have an update for his comprehensive compendium of them, but I found it’s already been used:

    WWF – 21 August 2003
    “American pikas are like the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change,” said Dr Catarina Cardoso, Head of WWF-UK’s Climate Change Programme.

    So the canary powerball lottery rolls over for another week, with an estimated payout of 3,000 quatloos.

  43. I had to laugh at the use of the word “extirpation’ in the title of Stewart’s article. The clear meaning of extirpation [‘ex-‘ (out) + ‘stirps’ (stem)] is a removal as in ‘uprooting’, not an ‘extinction’. So climate change is supposed to lead to the ‘uprooting’ of California pikas. ;^)

  44. Population dynamics in pikas are governed by predator/prey relations. Pikas occupy talus slopes to avoid predation. (They get plenty to eat there. Pikas are not starving out.) What eats them and how much is what determines how their populations change.
    Weather/climate has nothing to do with it. Pika populations rise and fall based on the degree (severity) of the predation pressure.
    Bill Murphy (comment at 8:25 am) has it exactly right. Fed policies which encourage population surges in coyotes, ravens, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears, and other predators have already caused population crashes in numerous wildlife species, including pikas.

    • For species like the moose I fully agree as I have written http://landscapesandcycles.net/on-migrating-moose-and-migrating-temperature-trend.html For pika however the most likely predators are snakes and weasels that slink their way through the talus crevices. Because predator-pika interactions are hard if not impossible to observe, and the pika’s short life span with an expected 3 to 4 years turnover frequency of territories, it is hard to evaluate predator effects. I have observed both rattlesnakes and weasels in close proximity to pika territory so I am sure predators create many of the vacancies. BUt Iif we assume in the case of the pika depredation it happens at a quasi-fixed frequency, then the key issue would be the dynamics of recolonization.

      • @Jeff. Of course populations will fluctuate according to classic predator prey relationships. And I would suspect the frequency of extinctions and recolonizations are partially driven by it. Sorry If i have been unclear but I am not arguing against that.
        @Mark I don’t suggest that raptors never prey on pika, but my experience is raptors are not a significant predator. From my observations of Bald Eagles, I would doubt eagles can catch many pika basking on the talus.
        That said, dispersing juveniles that are unprotected by the talus, are more likely to be snatched by a hawk of a coyote. But within their talus, my bet would be on weasels as the most significant predator, and while foraging outside of the talus the weasels larger cousin the Pine Marten is likely lurking.

    • Raptors are also common, I’ve seen mated pairs of bald eagles and red-tailed hawks make numerous passes to grab the yummy Pika snacks in both Utah and Colorado. And raptor populations are recovering like crazy in many areas of North America.

    • And Jeff is correct, my father was an animal biologist, (although he did most of his work with domestic livestock), and was always quick to point out that the foxes would be back as soon as the bunny population recovered…

  45. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t Al Gore use rabbits going blind in New Zealand because of “The Ozone Hole” in a similar fashion?
    By that I mean; find a way to profit (“profit” may not always be monetary) from stopping something Man is doing, pick a cute critter, claim something Man is does is harming it, rake in the profits from claiming to be an environmental prophet.

  46. “…Stewart referenced Beever (2010) who wrote, ““Although pikas have been shown to perish quickly when experimentally subjected to high temperatures, our metric of acute heat stress was the poorest predictor of pika extirpations.” Because maximum temperatures had revealed no acute heat stress, Beever adopted the term “chronic heat stress” which was just a more alarming way to say the average temperature…”

    Not a surprise. Ever since fire got harnessed mankind refers to it as ‘cooking’.
    Many creatures survive and often thrive in warmer environments where simple exposure results in heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death.
    Those who consider raising quail for fun profit or tasty food quickly learn that quail are very susceptible to death from heat stress. Even the quail, (e.g. gambel’s quail callipepla gambelii) native to the American Southwest quickly succumb when subjected to untempered mid day summer desert temperatures, causing researchers some puzzlement.
    Adaption is not just an accident, but also a result of deliberate activity changes. Yes, the soft science folks go crazy when it appears that animals just might use their brains instead of relying solely upon instinct then going extinct when instinct misses the changed climate.

  47. 1st paragraph says: …”changes no a daily”…Should that be “ON”? instead of “NO”?
    I’m funny that way, if I can’t fathom the 1st sentence, I naturally assume that I am too stupid to grasp any further concepts…and stop reading.
    Thanks
    [Many readers over the past few days, but you were the first to find that one. .mod]

  48. In the Great State of Washington there are Pikas. They are being studied along with other animals as the WADOT has been remaking the cross-state highway (I-90) and just east of Snoqualmie Pass the construction includes (now essentially complete) underpasses for wildlife. Here is a location mentioned in the linked article:
    47.395290, -121.38294
    I’ve used Google Earth and set the location about half-way between Gold Creek Pond and the highway. Elevation is 2530 feet. Here is the link:
    http://www.cwu.edu/cwu-wildlife-research-helps-guide-i-90-construction
    Also mentioned is an area called Price Creek. A WADOT document shows the area and a bit of the plan:
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/4EC220B2-A24B-4678-8BB9-6A0D3CE0798D/0/I90_Price_Creek_2014.pdf
    Here is a spot where I’ve seen a small “haystack” on talus at 4480 feet.
    47.266202, -120.508218
    The Google image is for 7/1/2013 and shows burned areas from “The Table Mountain Fire” of Sept. 2012. Note the green meadows and a few remaining trees north of the small lake.

  49. Gentlemen, we need to establish conventions, regarding the vocabulary used in Pika Science.
    The scientists who creep among boulders locating Pika sites shall be known as “Pika Peekers”.
    The scientists who display bias, ignoring the lower sites and only cherry-picking the higher sites to use in their study, shall be called “Pika Peeker Pickers.”
    Scientists who spot this bias and poke fun at it shall be called “Piker Peeker Picker Pokers.”
    Agreed?

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