The pika is among the most defenseless of the amazing variety of animals inhabiting Yellowtone National Park. Pikas are small rodents limited to higher altitudes who spend most of their time hiding in rocky terrain. Larger predators like eagles, owls and fox feast on the little critters — when they can find them.
But this cog in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem could end up on the Endangered Species List, as their numbers have been dwindling in recent years. According to Chris Ray, who is leading a research team from the University of Colorado, increasing temperatures in Yellowstone is causing a drop in pika numbers.
“Ironically,” Ray told NPR, “it looks like global warming might be resulting in pikas freezing to death.”
The issue: warming temperatures has cut back on the snow cover high in the mountains. Snow, interestingly, acts as an insulator for the pike in wintertime, given them critical shelter during subzero temperatures. Less snow means less insulation, and less insulation means more pikas freezing to death.
Combine that with higher temperatures in the summer, which cause pika to stay in their rocky shelters, and you have pika potentially starving to death.
Armed with Ray’s data, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to add the pika to the Endangered Species List. A decision on the petition could come next spring.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.