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Climate Change Leaves Mountain Mammal's Survival in the Balance

A tiny mountain mammal called the American pika faces an uncertain future due to climate change and decreasing habitat in Yosemite and other high alpine areas in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, scientists with the Park Service said.

Pikas look like hamster-sized mice, but they are more closely related to rabbits and hares. The little herbivores like to live in boulder fields that get ice and snow between 5,000 feet and 10,000 feet elevation, and they stay active in winter.

“What we’ve seen in the Yosemite area in particular is in summer months, it’s getting warmer for high elevation animals,” said Tom Rodhouse, an ecologist with the National Park Service. “They use snowpack in the winter as a blanket to stay warm. They store up dry plants, put in piles in the boulder fields to feed in winter. Drought spells are really stressful for pikas.”

Rodhouse is part of a team of scientists who recently studied the potential impact of climate change on the American pika, focusing on variables including gene flow, habitat and microhabitat complexity. Their work was published last week in the journal Global Change Biology.

David Kingham

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