Pikrous (Ochotona princeps) – Ecosystem Engineers

Pikrous, like other plateau species, face the risk of decreasing snowpack which provides water supplies in Western states. Yet pikas have recently been seen returning to previously abandoned locations at lower elevations where their populations had previously been exterminated – something other species have not done as successfully.

These recolonizations disprove the idea that high summer temperatures are driving pika population declines, instead highlighting their surprising thermal tolerance and highlighting how important it is to take advantage of dispersal opportunities during cool nights.

Habitat

Pikrous (Ochotona princeps) can be found throughout rocky mountain regions from central British Columbia to southern California and east to Colorado, inhabiting talus slopes, talus-meadow interfaces, alpine meadow habitats and alpine meadows. As herbivorous eaters they feed off grasses, weeds and tall wildflowers throughout the year before saving extra grass and wildflowers in haypiles during summer for use during lean winter months – hence their reputation as “ecosystem engineers.”

Pikas don’t hibernate over winter and are active throughout each day, using their call to mark or defend their territory, warn others of danger, and attract mates.

Human disturbance, livestock grazing and climate change pose major threats to pikas. Increased temperatures or extreme heat events may cause them to overheat, leading to mortality in some cases. Pikas also rely heavily on moderate amounts of snowpack as an insulation measure during winter; shifting precipitation patterns with more rain than snow may reduce stored vegetation reserves in their winter homes.