Sunday, 4 September 2016

American pika vanishing from western US as 'habitat lost to climate change'

The small mammal – ‘one of the cutest animals in America’ – is struggling to survive as summers get hotter and drier

Associated Press
Friday 26 August 201601.39 BST

Populations of a rabbit-like animal known as the American pika are vanishing in many mountainous areas of the west as climate change alters its habitat, according to findings released by the US Geological Survey.

The range for the mountain-dwelling herbivore is shrinking in southern Utah, north-eastern California and in the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California, the federal agency concluded after studying the mammal from 2012-2015.

This study’s conclusion marks a more authoritative statement about the role of global warming on the animal compared to research released in 2003 that found climate change was at least partly contributing to the animal’s decline.

“The longer we go along, the evidence continues to suggest that climate is the single strongest factor,” said Erik Beever, a research ecologist with the USGS and lead author.

The pika’s habitat on mountain slopes, known as talus, are becoming hotter and drier in the summer and harsher in the winter with less snowpack to serve as an insulator, Beever said.
The study bolsters the long-running efforts of wildlife advocacy groups to have the animal added to the endangered species list amid concerns about global warming.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a request in 2010, saying not all populations were declining. A new request was made this April by a high school student in New York state.

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