The American pika is a small, herbivorous mammal related to rabbits and hares, adapted to the cold climate and long winters of rocky talus slopes near alpine meadows in the mountains of western North America. But the very adaptations that have allowed the species to survive make the pika extra-sensitive to the changes wrought by global warming — and pika populations across the West are now disappearing.
American pika © Michael Mengak
PROTECTION STATUS: Not listed
PETITIONED: 2007 (federal petition, California petition)
RANGE: In mountains throughout western United States and Canada from northern New Mexico and California to central British Columbia. The American pika is broken into 36 subspecies based on geography and assumed metapopulation structure.
THREATS: Global warming is the greatest threat to the American pika, through direct impacts to the pikas as well as through potential changes in the vegetation they eat.
POPULATION TREND: Studies of American pika populations in the Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, and California have found recent shifts in range and population losses. Average elevations have been observed to rise as much as 400 m in recent decades; lower elevation sites have been lost or shifted up-slope. In the Great Basin area alone, nine populations have recently become extirpated out of a study of 25 historic populations.
OUR CAMPAIGN FOR THE AMERICAN PIKA
The Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning the state of California to list the five California subspecies as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act and will also be petitioning the federal government to list the American pika as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Designating the pika as endangered would help protect the pikas against direct harm and would also require the protection of the habitat necessary for the pika’s survival and recovery. Just as importantly, the species’ protected status would be a strong call for addressing the greatest threat facing the American pika — global warming.
Contact: Dr. Shaye Wolf
DID YOU KNOW?
Despite the long, cold, snowy winters at high elevations, pikas do not hibernate.
Pikas collect grasses and other plants and store them in “haypiles” to use as food through the long winters.
Pikas run out from the talus rocks to the meadow to eat and collect plants, making as many as 13 trips each hour.
Pikas eat enough each day to fill their bellies nine times.
Pikas don’t burrow into the ground, but rest and nest in the spaces under boulders and rocks.