Washington’s Pikas Are In Even More Trouble Than Scientists Thought
Pikas are little rabbit-like mammals that could fit in the palm of your hand. They’re often seen scurrying around rocky alpine slopes with their mouths full of wildflowers.
Pikas like it cold, so, as the climate has warmed, they’ve disappeared from lower elevations where they used to live.
For years, scientists thought pikas were adapting to climate change by moving uphill. But new research indicates the news is even worse than that.
Pikas aren’t adapting to climate change by moving uphill. In fact, because of the way they move around the landscape, they’re not adapting to climate change at all.
Michael Russello and his fellow researchers at the University of British Columbia used DNA sequencing to track the movements of pikas in the North Cascades.
What they found was, when young pikas strike out on their own, they tend to move downhill to look for living space. And, once they get there, they’re dying off instead of establishing lower-altitude populations.
Their distinctive call may be familiar to anyone whose spent time hiking in high alpine areas:
Since pikas aren’t moving uphill, and they’re not establishing downhill populations, Russello said, “As the climates warm, that strip of available habitat is just getting narrower and narrower and narrower.”
That’s bad news for alpine ecosystems as a whole, said Joseph Stewart, a Ph.D. candidate in conservation biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Stewart has studied pikas and climate change, but he was not involved in this particular study.
“Pikas are part of the food chain,” he said. “They’re food to owls and hawks and coyotes and snakes and weasels.”
He added that they also move plants and soil around and change the way water moves through the landscape.
Russello said he can imagine needing to transfer pikas uphill in the future to save them, but he doesn’t think that’s necessary, yet.
Conservation groups say the animals need to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Ten groups want to force the federal government to protect the elusive wolverines. The groups estimate there are around 300 wolverines left, sparsely scattered across the Mountain West, including Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Continue Reading Where Have All The Wolverines Gone? Apparently Not On The Endangered Species List (Yet)
At the end of the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came up with a plan that was supposed to shorten a backlog of species that might need a place on the endangered species list or need more critical habitat protected. But the Center for Biological Diversity says that plan has gone by the wayside under the Trump administration. Continue Reading Conservationists Push Federal Managers On Timeline Of Endangered Species Determinations
Seventeen states sued the Trump administration Wednesday to block rules weakening the Endangered Species Act, saying the changes would make it tougher to protect wildlife even in the midst of a global extinction crisis. Continue Reading Washington, Oregon Among 17 States Suing Feds Over Changes To Endangered Species Protections