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American pika disappears from large area of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains due to climate change and habitat fragmentation

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Posted: 30 Aug 2017 05:21 PM PDT read full ScienceDaily article here

With high metabolic rates and thick fur, pikas are well adapted to the cold temperatures at high elevations, but these same adaptations make them vulnerable to global warming.
Credit: Joseph Stewart

The American pika, a small mammal adapted to high altitudes and cold temperatures, has died out from a 165-square-mile span of habitat in California’s northern Sierra Nevada mountains, and the cause appears to be climate change. Researchers surveyed pika habitat throughout the north Lake Tahoe area and found that pikas had disappeared from an area that stretches from near Tahoe City to Truckee, more than 10 miles away, and includes Mount Pluto…

….The local pika extinction opens a large gap in the species distribution north of Lake Tahoe, and the authors believe this gap indicates the complete loss of population and genetic connectivity between pikas to the east and west.

The American pika is just one of many species threatened by a changing climate, Stewart said, listing salmon, wolverines, tigers, walruses, coral reefs, elephants, and redwood forests as other examples of iconic species vulnerable to climate change….

…The authors note that while management actions such as habitat protection, restoration, or assisted migration may be helpful for some climate-imperiled species, management options for the pika appear to be limited. “Our hope is that simply getting the word out there that climate change is causing iconic wildlife to disappear will get people talking and contribute toward political will to reign in and reverse climate change,” Stewart said. “There’s still time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. We need our leaders to take bold action now.”

Joseph A. E. Stewart, David H. Wright, Katherine A. Heckman. Apparent climate-mediated loss and fragmentation of core habitat of the American pika in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (8): e0181834 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181834

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