American pikas, small mammals mostly living in high-altitude and cool habitats, defy previous predictions that climate change will force them to move to higher and cooler places until there is no more and their species would die out, according to a new study.

An extensive review of the species, led by Arizona State University emeritus professor Andrew Smith, finds that the American pika has exhibited more resilience in the face of increasing temperatures. The study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, shows that these small furry creatures manage to adapt and survive despite the adverse effects of global warming.

American Pika
(Photo: Frédéric Dulude-de Broin via Wikimedia Commons)
American pika (Ochotona princeps) carrying flowers and grass to build its nest. The photo was taken on 24-07-2016 at Cambridge, Alberta (Canada).

A Long-Term Study on American Pikas

According to a news release from Arizona State University, Smith studied the American pika for more than five decades now. He gathered enough evidence, including those from literature reviews, that shows the thriving population of these mammals across North America - including Canadian territories of British Columbia and Alberta in the north up to New Mexico in the southwestern United States.

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Their occupancy in previously known habitats, such as major mountain areas in the western part of the continent, to be uniformly high. In the sites that have been recently surveyed, researchers found no notable climate signal that distinguished between the sites that had American pika populations in it and those places uninhabited by these species. Smith described this pattern as a sign that these mammals are a "robust species."

Smith explained that studies claiming the American pika to be at risk are only based on a small number of restricted sites, located at the margins of the species' known geographic range such as the Great Basin area. He noted that a recent study evaluating a total of 3,250 sites in the Great Basin showed that pikas lived in over 73 percent of the habitats inspected - with the sites hosting pikas and those that don't share similar climate conditions.


Pikas Are Surviving, But Not Entirely Safe

The most defining finding, according to Smith, is that American pikas might not be as temperature-sensitive as previously believed. There have been pika populations in warmer, lower elevation sites. He cited locations such as the Bodie California State Historic Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and the Columbia River Gorge as examples of these warmer place that managed to maintain American pika populations, demonstrating the ability of the furry mammals to adapt and thrive apart from their previously-thought environments.

However, he noted that these findings do not mean that there is no threat to their population from climate change, which has still diminished in some places. His review notes that most documented pika populations lost have only occurred on small and isolated habitat patches.

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In 2016, the US Geological Survey released a report that indicated the diminishing populations of the pikas in mountainous areas of North America. After surveying the pika population between 2012 and 2015, it claimed that its population is in decline, especially in Southern Utah, northeastern California, and the Great Basin - specifically parts of Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho.

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