Remember when Pikas were going to be wiped off the face of the Earth due to climate change? Never mind…

From OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY comes this Emily Litella climate moment, we told you so


Study: Future for charismatic pika not as daunting as once feared

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The American pika is thought by many biologists to be a prime candidate for extirpation as the planet continues to warm, done in by temperatures too severe for this small mammal native to cold climates.

But a new study, published this week in the journal Global Change Biology, paints a different, more complex future for this rock-dwelling little lagomorph – the same order that includes rabbits and hares. Pikas may survive, even thrive, in some areas, the researchers say, while facing extirpation in others.

The research is important because pikas are considered a sentinel species for climate change impacts.

Led by Oregon State University post-doctoral researcher Donelle Schwalm, the study delved into where pikas live and how they move among habitat patches. The team used that information to create species distribution models for eight National Park Service areas in the western United States and forecast pika distribution 30, 60 and 90 years into the future, based on expected climate change scenarios.

The Pikas in Peril research project, funded by the National Park Service, was launched in 2010 to determine how vulnerable the animals are to climate change in eight NPS units.

“If you look at the overall picture, the amount of suitable habitat will decline and temperatures will warm in most of these National Parks,” Schwalm said. “But many of these sites have areas that are colder, higher and sometimes wetter than other areas, and pikas should do quite well there.

“In some parks, risk of extinction will increase,” she added. “But in other parks, like Grand Teton and Lassen, their populations should remain stable.”

Pikas seek out icy pockets in rock fields or lava flows and live near other pikas in small patches of these cool habitats. One key to their survival appears to be maintaining connectivity among different pika patches, which keeps a satisfactory level of genetic diversity among the broader population and allows for the inevitable downturns in survival due to weather, predation, disease and other factors, noted Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and co-author on the study.

“If you just have three or four pikas in a given area, that’s a pretty small group and at the patch level, they can wink out pretty quickly,” said Epps, who studies habitat connectivity for many animal species. “But if you can maintain good connectivity, pikas can disperse from other patches and the overall system remains strong as long as habitat remains generally suitable.”

The study found that connectivity influenced where pikas persist in most of the eight parks, and thus must be incorporated in forecasts of future pika populations, the researchers noted.

The ideal habitat for pikas is a high-elevation, cold boulder field with north- and east-facing slopes that is adjacent to similar boulder fields. The herbivorous pikas also need access to high-quality forage, including forbs, grasses, sedges, twigs, moss and lichen, said Thomas Rodhouse, a biologist with the National Park Service.

“The study is important because it suggests that some parks may be more appropriate areas to focus our resources than others,” Rodhouse said. “If we look at it on a system-wide basis, the pika should survive. But we can’t say that they will be thriving, or even present, at all eight parks down the road.”

“We potentially could move pikas from vulnerable areas to locations with suitable habitat,” Rodhouse added. “Or we could discuss enhancing habitat and creating more connectivity, though you have to examine whether that is something we should be doing in a National Park. But this study allows us to begin having these strategic discussions.”

Study results for the eight National Park Service units suggest that:

  • Crater Lake National Park’s pikas already occupy the highest-elevation habitat, thus there is no refuge to which pikas may escape. Warming temperatures, particularly in winter, may reduce the insulating snow layer and decrease patch occupancy by 50 to 100 percent;
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument is hotter and drier than the other parks and the best habitat is occupied. Although temperature and precipitation may change in this park, it appears that the pika will persist, although at lower numbers;
  • Grand Teton National Park has exceptional connectivity among habitat patches, which likely will persist over time. Cool temperatures and increasing precipitation at high elevations make this park an important refuge for the species;
  • Great Sand Dunes is a cool, dry park and pika populations may experience slight declines initially, but they also could increase over time as precipitation is projected to increase in the future;
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park has pikas well-distributed through the talus boulder fields and lava flows. Strong connectivity suggests pikas will persist under most climate change scenarios;
  • Lava Beds National Monument is unusually hot, dry and low in elevation, though the extensive lava flow is good habitat. Climate change modeling in this park was inconclusive, but low genetic diversity and warming suggests that this population is vulnerable;
  • Rocky Mountain National Park’s low elevations and south-facing slopes are impediments to gene flow. Rising temperatures, especially during the winter, and changing connectivity result in increasing likelihood of pika extirpation by the end of the century;
  • Yellowstone National Park also is predicted to see complete extirpation of pikas under most climate change scenarios because of warming and loss of connectivity.

As a sentinel species, pikas may provide a clue to how other animals react to climate change, the researchers note. “They can act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but they’re also just really cute, charismatic little animals,” Schwalm said. “There is a lot of public interest in preserving the pikas.”


105 thoughts on “Remember when Pikas were going to be wiped off the face of the Earth due to climate change? Never mind…

  1. Golllllly! Connectivity of habitat impacts animal populations? Wasn’t that a foregone conclusion back about 1880, when disruptions of range, due to railroads and other human interventions started to disrupt the migration patterns of a lot of range animals?
    Just a couple months ago a 28 year old assistant professor tried to argue with me about some patterns of media consumption that are endemic in the general population. She based her argument on two simple experiments, using small samples, student subjects, and requiring the recall and reporting of behaviors on a pencil and paper type of instrument. I based my argument on 20 years of working in the field with massive amounts of passive and active metering of media devices, (TV’s, web browsers, and mobile devices). I only have 30 Tbytes of data on my home servers right now, so I guess her combined sample of 184 students trumps me.
    Sometimes I think academics are becoming too stupid to know how dumb they are.

    • “Sometimes I think academics are becoming too stupid to know how dumb they are.” From my experience, no truer words can be expressed nowadays about the population residing in those ivory towers of academia. There are the rare exceptions, of course, but I believe that has probably always been the case.

      • Well I’m glad the Pikas are all doing well and everything. But, on the other hand, I can’t help but wish that all that anthropogenic CO2, that all those collectivist, scare-mongering hive-pukes and their greenwashed, crony-capitalist, con-job confederates are always runnin’ their whiny pie-holes about, would precipitate at least one bona fide “mass” extinction event.
        And when I say “mass” extinction event, I’m, of course, talkin’ about Michael Moore’s big, fat, “mass”-ive lard-butt. I mean, like, that guy is a bigger creep-out than David Appell, even. I mean, like, Michael Moore is nothing less than a positive public-health, bio-hazard menace, what with his stink-bomb “issues” in the “personal hygience” neglect-department, and what with his perpetually re-newable, gut-bucket load of noxious, beer-fart flatulence–so injurious to Gaia that Michael Moore would surely prevail if he were ever matched-up with the Porter-Ranch gas-spew in a “Methane Mother”, blue-flamer contest, even!
        And I mean, like, if you’re interested in the ultimate freak-show horror-story, featuring truly mind-boggling, olfactory macro-agressions, at the cyclic rate, try to get a hold of the suppressed outtakes from Megyn Kelly’s interview with Michael Moore of a week or so ago. Scary stuff!

      • Fj Shepherd….There is a whole series of Goya prints with mitre wearing jackasses instructing jackasses at large… so I think that the academic pundit has long been regarded as a nincompoop (that’s a technical term) by thinking people in general.

      • I thought it was
        “Those that can do and those that can’t teach and those that can’t teach inspect”
        or in the world of work it’s
        “Those that can do those that can’t get promoted”.
        James Bull

    • Hey folks, speaking of our favourite topic of good ole climate change…….a friend gave me a copy of this book called The Cassandra Sanction. They thought I’d find it interesting, because it’s an anti AGW thriller in the spirit of Michael Crichton, and also because the hero has the same surname as me. It’s a pretty good read, but the author really has a huge dig at the warmists. For me, that was the best part!

      • thanks…i will get our library to order it in
        every bit helps
        im sick of the prowarmist fiction starting to appear as semilegit factoids for the illinformed to accept as true basis.

    • So long as people keep on imposing socialist governments on themselves; we will never have any shortage of pikas.

    • “Sometimes I think academics are becoming too stupid to know how dumb they are.”

      Well, it’s really about maintaining the academic gravy train of research funds. Results be damned.

  2. Hmmm, let’s look at the facts. Pikas, like so many other animals on earth, live quite happily with annual temperature swings of maybe 50C or more, and daily swings of maybe 10C or more. The rate of warming that has been supposedly occurring (let’s ignore the pause for now), is er, 1C or less over decades – somewhat more time than any small rodent will ever be able to remember, by some distance.
    How have the little cuties been able to cope?
    With regards to “research” like this, you can put lipstick on a pika… – but it’s descendants will still be there after decades of supposed “warming”. Unless subject to predation, disease, habitat loss or any other factors that we like to ignore because it doesn’t suit the narrative.

    • Cute!? They are also “charismatic” apparently with lots of public interest in saving them. Probably coming from the same people who would not open their SUV window to spare change for their fellow brethren.

    • Alarmists surely do not believe in evolution. They do not believe any inconvenient facts. They believe that that they are unfairly persecuted. Remember a noted researcher Prof. Peter Wadhams, whose life is in danger?

    • The whole assumption of the study is that any change in the population/distribution of pikas over time has to be caused by climate change. It’s too bad the world isn’t that simple. They are cute, and tourists do stop to watch them. The only two I ever got to know well, however, were not particularly “charismatic”.

  3. Is this really serious scientific research? It starts off with an unproven theory about gerbil warning; excuse me global warming, and it’s long-term effects on a cute little Lagomorph species and spends lots of $$$ and paper trying to prove the pre-conceived bias. Pure speculation and not a fate of the free world issue!

    • The real question is, how did these pikas (and I know them well, having amused myself peeping back at them in the Rocky Mountains) survive the Minoan, Roman and Medieval warm periods in the past? I would presume, they simply do slightly different things than they do today to survive since they survived several major Ice Ages and Interglacials quite fine.

  4. increasing precipitation at high elevations make this park an important refuge for the species;

    The only reason I can think of that precipitation matters is that it promotes plant life. CO2 also promotes plant life and also means that plants don’t need as much water. These researchers have ignored that.
    The future for the Pika is brighter than expected thanks to the blessing of increased CO2 levels.

  5. From Donelle Schwalm’s linkedIn page, [quote] “however my strongest skills are in the realms of functional connectivity (in particular, landscape genetics), species distribution modelling (sic), population modelling (sic), and climate change.” Yup, I think that says it all, she specializes in models on the already preconceived outcome of more models.

    • modelling (sic)
      Duncan, that is the correct spelling. Some Americans decided that two Ls was beyond you colonists to manage.

      • Why would wordpres be unhapy with the speling of model-led ?
        Sorry only one question mark per customer.

      • Alan, I think it depends on which spelling dictionary you have selected on your system. I use British English for spell check (for reasons I won’t explain.) Modelled and modelling don’t raise a flag for me. Nor traveller. Nor colour.

    • Remember those frogs in S. America that were killed off because of a fungus brought in on the shoes of the scientists studying them?
      I believe the Pika’s greatest danger would be habitat destruction brought about by constant observation.

    • And too much attention from various populations of Homo sapiens. (I see that MarkW has pre-empted me regarding the really dangerous ones.)

  6. These ‘biologists’ never seem to have read any historical data on animal populations. Pika have survived several Ice Ages, volcanic ages and other planetary scale changes. Just as Polar bears have survived enormous periods of change in the Arctic. Evolution actually WORKS.
    Species adapt, change and survive; not least our own.

  7. Well, I’m pretty sure Jim Steele told us all this 5 years ago. Pikas move around, subpopulations blink in and out. The original claims of Pika decline was a data cherry picked study of very low quality. Only now in the age of climate science are we all suppose to forget what we learned in elementary school…populations naturally boom and bust, migrate and adapt. Everyone seems to forget now that places naturally go through drought and rain. As if it was natural for a place that gets 3 feet of precip a year to get exactly 1/10 of an inch every day of the year.

  8. Rocky Mountain National Park’s low elevations and south-facing slopes are impediments to gene flow Low elevations? Snow above 10K feet year round. South facing slopes an impediment I know it is difficult to imagine, but every peak with a south-facing slope has a north-facing one as well. Are these people really this stupid?
    And speaking of animal population counts wasn’t Arrhenius involved in the same? The same source of exaggerated CO2 impacts…..

    • What, you’ve never heard of the Great Rocky One-sided mountain? Well, let me tell you…. (sits back in rocking chair, pulls out pipe)

    • I have often seen Pikas sunning themselves on south slopes. I often used to stop at a particular rest stop with a south facing talus slope east of Hope, BC to watch them. That was 40 years ago. My son now stops with his son to watch them. Thanks to Jim Steele for all the Pika information.

  9. I think that some information on the length of a typical pika generation would help those (I’m a Brit) who don’t know this animal. What I do know (from other studies) is that the faster the cycling of generations, the more rapid the response to environmental changes of any kind – Darwin had a word (or two) for it.

    • And many experiments (real ones, not models) have shown this to be true. The proponents of man made catastrophic climate change totally discount the natural world’s ability to adapt in a benign way by, surprisingly rapid, evolution and behavioural change.
      Despite the facts, alarmists continue to claim widespread future species extinction. They love the phrase because the very word ‘extinction’ strikes fear into most people. It’s much more more powerful than ‘Hiroshima bombs’ worth of energy, in their fearmongering lexicon.

      • “[Pikas] can act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but they’re also just really cute, charismatic little animals,” Schwalm said.
        Canary in a coal mine? More like a canary in a forest. There’s no methane to worry about, just as there’s no current warming of concern. Whatever warming there is began at the end of the Little Ice Age, 150 years ago, +/-.

    • American pikas live about 7 years and have two litters per year. Never seen one, but that’s what the omniscient and infallible web says. They eat a wide range of plants and apparently some of them will stuff dead birds in their burrows for winter. Not quitters.

  10. I don’t know pika though I’ve been in the Tetons but I expect they are similar to other animals that live in inhospitable places – enough food and fewer predators so they survive better. Unlike some high mountain plants they can survive perfectly well in much warmer places (such as zoos). As has already been said, the temperature can change by 15C in 15 minutes in the mountains.
    I would like a job studying in such places.

    • “Unlike some high mountain plants they can survive perfectly well in much warmer places (such as zoos).”
      They probably have carved out a niche surviving where other succesful species like rabbits cannot. They would do well in warmer environments without competition, but if rabbits can survive the Pika would likely be out-competed. If the climate changes the Pika will not suffer becasue it cannot survive a slightly warmer environment, but because the environment becomes more suitable for the competition. Pikas prefer C3 plants to C4 plants.

      • Pikas live in the high elevation rocky environments above the tree line. No rabbits anywhere near that elevation.
        I’m curious how the pika survived during the Middle Ages and Roman warming periods as well as the Little Ice Age. Obviously just fine.

      • seaice1 on February 1, 2016 at 8:16 am
        “They probably have carved out a niche surviving where other succesful species like rabbits cannot. They would do well in warmer environments without competition”

  11. Way off the thread, chaps, but where else? I’ve just seen The Big Short and read James Delingpole in the London Spectator on why we should all support http://www.coolfuturesfundsmanagement,com which is attracting crowd funding to short the global warming scam against its imminent demise. Plenty of investment opportunities upcoming to short solar/wind with removal of renewables subsidy, reversion to coal etc. If this takes off, it will have an enormous effect. I have chucked in my widow’s mite.

  12. The rate at which canary-in-the-coal-mine species are shown to be thriving is definitely increasing. At least 97% of this worrisome trend is doubtlessly caused by climate change, and if it continues, we will soon run out of canaries in the coal mine altogether. Once this tipping point is reached, we will no longer have any warning signs at all (aside from the accelerating temperature adjustments, of course) and be totally unprepared for the full, final, irreversible onslaught of climate change.
    It is definitely worse than we thought™.

  13. That extra 1/100 of a degree is a killer. Good job pikas don’t like in a broken computer model. The adjusted input might kill them.

    • Polar Bears are not cuddly and they have a nasty disposition. They keep trapping global warmers in their camps and discouraging them from doing that research they so need to save the Polar Bear.
      You never heard a researcher shout “we can’t go out now…The Pikas are on the prowl!”

  14. “The research is important because pikas are considered a sentinel species for climate change impacts.”
    By whom? A remark like that fails to jog my concern one little bit. A sentinel species? You mean we have to send Pika Sentinels up mountainsides to get an early warning? What garbage.

    • Considering the comments above about how they could easily survive the warmth but not the competition and the authors claims that its about pockets of habit decreasing, surely the metric is the area of suitable habitat? Even the presence of other lagomorpha would be a better indicator than looking for a small solitary animal that lives in holes – where you need to model instead of actually counting?

  15. Anyone have handy access to the raw climate data (trends for the last 100 yrs or so) for the locations mentioned? I suspect the AGW narrative may not be so visible in these non-urban locales…

    • Local temperature trends: go to, and enter something like “average temperature Pike’s Peak Colorado past 60 years.” Allow it to pull the data and graph it for you.

  16. ““In some parks, risk of extinction will increase,” she added. “But in other parks, like Grand Teton and Lassen, their populations should remain stable.”
    Should read: ““In some parks, risk of POPULATION REDUCTION will increase,” she added. “But in other parks, like Grand Teton and Lassen, their populations should remain stable.”
    But we all know the word “extinction” carries a much higher level of fear.

    • Precisely how many Hiroshima bomb equivalents would it require to completely eradicate the cute little pikas?

      • Funny you should bring that up because I was watching a Johnny Carson rerun from 1983 last night and he had comments about a newspaper article that said in Chico CA (AW’s hangout) there was a law that said the punishment for detonating an atomic device in Chico was one year in prison and a $500 fine. If I recall that may have been mentioned here years ago.

      • Presuming someone actually did detonate an atomic device in Chico, I wonder where they would house the prisoner?

  17. This article gives something of an impression that Pikas are found in parks. I have hiked many locations in the Washington Cascades and Glacier National Part and encountered the critters in a lot of those places and at a wide range of elevations. That is to say, their habitat is huge. They are cute and make a unique sounding call. Perhaps they’re complaining about the climate.

  18. The more we think we know the less we know. Things are constantly changing, adapting etc. Five years from now things will be so vastly different that what they are now we will look back and wonder what we were even talking about. Hopefully the Pikas will thrive and perhaps be on their way to world domination. They cannot screw things up any more than Humans have.

  19. “We potentially could move pikas from vulnerable areas to locations with suitable habitat,” Rodhouse added. “Or we could discuss enhancing habitat and creating more connectivity, though you have to examine whether that is something we should be doing in a National Park. But this study allows us to begin having these strategic discussions.”

    Or we could perhaps even do nothing.
    It is well worth WUWT readers’ time to review the related posts linked to at the end of the article — the two by Jim Steele in particular. Jim’s most detailed post references a study by Dr. Andrew Smith. I am copying two links from that post for your convenience:
    Crag Idso’s summary of Dr. Smith’s paper here
    The actual paper here
    The only thing more resilient than the American Pika is apparently the alarmist claim of its imminent demise.

    • As Jim Steele and others have said, certain populations may disappear and reappear, and perhaps sub-species might disappear. But overall, I don’t think Pikas are in danger since they have been around since before the last ice age:

      Historically, a large number of taxonomic forms has been recognized within Nearctic pikas (Lagomorpha: Ochotonidae; Ochotona), including up to 13 species and 37 subspecies. After 1965, 2 species and 37 forms have been recognized: the monotypic O. collaris of Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, and Northwest Territories, and O. princeps, with 36 subspecies spread throughout western Canada and the western United States. The 36 subspecies of O. princeps have been distinguished by subtle differences, particularly in pelage coloration and body size, within the highly fragmented distribution of the species on isolated “islands” of cool, rocky habitat. However, molecular phylogenetic studies (allozyme electrophoresis and sequencing of both mitochondrial and nuclear genomes) indicate the existence of 5 phylogenetic lineages within O. princeps. The cohesiveness of each lineage has been reinforced during glacial stages by introgressive hybridization among currently isolated populations within each lineage. In contrast, the low level of cranial variation and lack of consistent differentiation in cranial characters, pelage coloration, or body size among the 5 lineages indicates idiosyncratic interlocality variation due to high inbreeding within highly isolated populations, genetic drift, and possibly selection for common traits. Examination of allozymic, morphological, and nuclear DNA data indicates previous introgressive hybridization among several of the lineages, probably associated with contact during the Last Glacial Maximum. Herein we characterize morphometric variation between and among O. collaris (n  =  164) and O. princeps (n  =  1,999) and revise the subspecific taxonomy of O. princeps to 5 subspecies based on molecular phylogenetic lineages, at least 3 of which are known to possess a unique dialect in the short call: O. p. princeps (Northern Rocky Mountains), O. p. fenisex (Coast Mountains and Cascade Range), O. p. saxatilis (Southern Rocky Mountains), O. p. schisticeps (Sierra Nevada and Great Basin), and O. p. uinta (Uinta Mountains and Wasatch Range of central Utah). These 5 subspecies represent evolutionarily meaningful units for consideration of possible management applications if populations of O. princeps are imperiled by human activities.
      I don’t fear for the Pika.

    • Small mammal populations seem to crash all the time. Life isn’t easy out there in the wilderness. (Suburban-based researchers may not realize this.)

  20. Pikas are cool animals! I have a lot more confidence in them than the Schmidt, Trenberth, Karl and the other gangsters.

  21. The ideal habitat for pikas is a high-elevation …
    And the definition of “high-elevation” is — what?
    They will live between 2,000 feet up to higher than I think I’ve been. Maybe lower than 2,000 feet but I cannot personally confirm that.
    … boulder fields …” … and … “connectivity influenced where
    The cute little things seem to think the “cut & fill” method of modern highway construction was designed just for them. “Fill” means larger areas filled with rocks where there were none previously. Further, highway construction and replacement now includes assessment of the plants and animals and is designed and built accordingly, including crossing structures to divert wildlife over or under the roads.
    Connecting habitat in the Cascades
    And: Local newspaper explains
    The pika, a small mammal with round ears that makes a high-pitch squeak, is a major focus of Ernest’s research. Her team is working to determine how connected pika populations are now, and will continue to look at connectivity after the crossing structures are built.

  22. The picture of the pika looks exactly like the toy my daughter had. When you pull the string, it moved its arms and delivered punches all while singing “Kung Fu Fighting”.

  23. If I recall correctly, isn’t the main threat to pikas habitat loss? I see a real risk that people will say “species X is at risk THEREFORE let us put all our effort into trying to change the climate” instead of doing effective things like setting aside habitat, ensuring that habitat patches are connected to allow gene flow, controlling introduced predators, …, all the boring old stuff that has actually worked pretty well. I mean, fighting windmills in mistake for giants is silly enough, but it’s lethally stupid when there are real giants to fight.

  24. What I want to know is “what global warming”?????
    We are at nearly 20 years of no upward trend in temperatures — and some say the unadjusted (not faked) temps show a decline. So how come we are whining about what might happen with a warming globe when we don’t have a warming globe?

  25. I’d be worried about them being accidentally exterminated by all the researchers going out to study them.
    Sort of like those frogs were.

  26. This seems to be yet another demonstration of how to backpedal earnestly. I’m sure we’ll see more of that in the future.

  27. “controlling introduced predators,”, those bat chomping, bird slicing, eco-crucifixes are already ensuring there will be no bats or birds left with in the near future while ALL those “species hyperventilates” sit on their hands and say absolutely NOTHING..

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