They’re possibly the cutest mammals in the whole of North America, but sadly a recent study has reported the largest local extinction of pika ever recorded in modern times.
The researchers' findings, published in the journal PLOS One, revealed that in a known pika habitat, a 165-square-kilometer (64 square miles) area located in California's northern Sierra Nevada mountains, the pikas have disappeared. They suspect this is due to heat increase that has become threatening to the small species, which are adapted to cold climates, forcing them to climb higher, searching for more chilled areas to survive.
The researchers surveyed pika sites throughout the North Lake Tahoe area, particularly the region known as the Pluto triangle, the area around Mount Pluto that stretches from Lake Tahoe to the Truckee river, between 2011 and 2016. But there were no signs showing that pikas were currently located in the Pluto triangle.
"The loss of pikas from this large area of otherwise suitable habitat echoes prehistoric range collapses that happened when temperatures increased after the last ice age," Joseph Stewart, lead author and PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz said in a statement. "This time, however, we're seeing the effects of climate change unfold on a scale of decades as opposed to millennia."
"Mount Rose and Desolation Wilderness are still great places to see pikas," Stewart added, but based on the speed of this local extinction the study forecasts that by 2050 there could be a 97 percent decrease in acceptable climate conditions for pikas anywhere in the Lake Tahoe region.
A study last year by the US Geological Survey on how climate change was affecting pika populations revealed in California, only 11 of the previously known 29 pika sites were inhabited. Although pikas still exist outside of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the decline in this area as a habitat for the furry animals is a wakeup call for the global warming problems we have coming our way.
"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."