Apparent climate-mediated loss and fragmentation of core habitat of the American pika in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA
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Contemporary climate change has been widely documented as the apparent cause of range contraction at the edge of many species distributions but documentation of climate change as a cause of extirpation and fragmentation of the interior of a species' core habitat has been lacking. Here, we report the extirpation of the American pika (Ochotona princeps), a temperature-sensitive small mammal, from a 165-km2 area located within its core habitat in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. While sites surrounding the area still maintain pikas, radiocarbon analyses of pika fecal pellets recovered within this area indicate that former patch occupancy ranges from before 1955, the beginning of the atmospheric spike in radiocarbon associated with above ground atomic bomb testing, to c. 1991. Despite an abundance of suitable rocky habitat climate warming appears to have precipitated their demise. Weather station data reveal a 1.9°C rise in local temperature and a significant decline in snowpack over the period of record, 1910-2015, pushing pika habitat into increasingly tenuous climate conditions during the period of extirpation. This is among the first accounts of an apparently climate-mediated, modern extirpation of a species from an interior portion of its geographic distribution, resulting in habitat fragmentation, and is the largest area yet reported for a modern-era pika extirpation. Our finding provides empirical support to model projections, indicating that even core areas of species habitat are vulnerable to climate change within a timeframe of decades.
Stewart, Joseph A.E.; Wright, David H.; Heckman, Katherine A.; Guralnick, Robert. 2017. Apparent climate-mediated loss and fragmentation of core habitat of the American pika in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA. PLOS ONE. 12(8): e0181834-. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181834.