About the SA Blog Network

Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world
Extinction Countdown Home

Denial of global warming threat to the American pika means no protection from U.S.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

American pikaDespite documented threats posed to the American pika (Ochotona princeps) by global warming, the rapidly disappearing mammalian species will not be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ruled last week.

Almost exactly one year ago, the FWS agreed to assess the health of the pika—a tiny cousin of the rabbit—in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Earthjustice. At the time, the pika was the first non-Alaskan species to be considered for Endangered Species Act protection due to threats resulting from global warming.

"After review of all available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing the American pika…is not warranted at this time," read the FWS report of its 12-month review of the species. The report is due for publication February 8 in the Federal Register.

The American pika lives on cold mountain peaks in the U.S., where the 36 pika subspecies have adapted for a very specific environment and temperature range. According to the CBD, in Tucson, Ariz., the pika can overheat and die when exposed to temperatures as low as 25.5 degrees Celsius for just a few hours. Pika have disappeared from more than a third of their previously known habitats in Nevada and Oregon, and other populations have moved nearly 300 meters upslope from where they used to be found.

But the FWS disagrees with the assertion that the pika will not survive warmer temperatures, or that it will run out of suitable habitat if it keeps climbing upward for colder habitat. "Although the American pika is potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in portions of its range, the best available scientific information indicates that pikas will be able to survive despite higher temperatures," a FWS press release stated. According to the FWS, the pika can tolerate temperatures up to 40 degrees C.

Going into more specifics, FWS field supervisor Larry Crist told the Los Angeles Times, "We believe that in some low elevations pikas are likely to decline, but we see no danger of extinction through 2050."

(The FWS also disagrees as to the number of pika subspecies, saying its review identified just five subspecies.)

Environmental groups, obviously, aren’t happy with this decision. "We’ve already lost almost half of the pikas that once inhabited the Great Basin, and scientists tell us that pikas will be gone from 80 percent of their entire range in the United States by the end of century," Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said in a prepared statement. "To conclude that this species is not threatened by climate change is an impossible gamble that we can’t afford."

A recent article in last month’s issue of the journal BioScience conflicts with the FWS’s science. "The high-energy mammals can overheat and die at temperatures as mild as 25 degrees Celsius if they can’t regulate their body temperature by moving into the cooler microclimate under the talus," author Wendee Holtcamp wrote. "And since they already live near the tops of mountains, when a particular talus field’s microclimate becomes inhospitable, they simply have nowhere to go."

Shaye Wolf, a CBD biologist, called the FWS’s move "a political decision that ignores science and the law," in a prepared statement. "Scientific studies clearly show that the pika is disappearing from the American West due to climate change and needs the immediate protections of the Endangered Species Act to help prevent its extinction."

The FWS hasn’t closed the doors on the pika—although that door isn’t exactly wide open either. The Federal Register report says, "We ask the public to submit to us any new information that becomes available concerning the threats to the American pika, the five subspecies, or its habitat at any time."

Let’s hope that "new information" comes quickly enough.

Image: American pika, via Wikimedia Commons


Rights & Permissions

Comments 20 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. candide 4:17 pm 02/9/2010

    Where are all the usual suspects posting about the GW conspiracy?

    Link to this
  2. 2. CBlaster 4:49 pm 02/9/2010


    This Brand New Video Blows a Huge Gaping Hole in Obama’s Cap and Tax Scheme:

    Link to this
  3. 3. loopsyel 4:58 pm 02/9/2010

    Geez! Those things are hard enough to see when you get the chance, and they’re one of like two animals on the top of the mountain. What am I supposed to go up there for now? The view?

    Way to go everybody! Drill baby drill! = Die pika die!

    Link to this
  4. 4. agenthucky 5:15 pm 02/9/2010

    youtube….what a credible source

    Link to this
  5. 5. agenthucky 5:18 pm 02/9/2010

    Because there is no profit in fighting the pika.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Joew Keough 10:28 pm 02/9/2010

    It’s Final. You’ve lost your collective "pika" minds. Can’t help you any longer.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Sisko 10:48 am 02/10/2010

    The point is it is not worth the expense to "save" every species dying out. Time marches on and if species can not adapt to a changing environment they are doomed. Bummer for the pika’s…..but not really a concern for me.

    Link to this
  8. 8. PhilJourdan 11:14 am 02/10/2010


    The archeological history of this planet is full of species that have not adatped and then died out. But today, they all want to blame AGW. man is evil. Man must be destroyed! So AGW will not kill another titmouse.

    Link to this
  9. 9. aaronoutside 12:21 pm 02/10/2010

    Not all threatened species are get as much attention as the cute and cuddly ones like the Pika and the panda. This is unfortunate and it is important to remember the species that don’t show up on the mainstream media. One of these species is the blobfish and it is threatened by bottom fishing. Check out this article on the issue.

    Link to this
  10. 10. naturalist_guy 12:36 pm 02/10/2010

    Sisco, you are right, those that don’t evolve will die out. I just wonder when humans will be on that list.

    Link to this
  11. 11. jplatt 1:26 pm 02/10/2010

    Aaron, we covered the blobfish here two weeks ago. Check out the archives.

    Link to this
  12. 12. gatman7 3:43 pm 02/10/2010

    Let’s stop fertilizing NGO’s with taxpayer money. Then those run by algore clones will go extinct too for lack of functional brains to find their own.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Alan P 4:16 pm 02/10/2010

    Sisko, your ignorance is showing. Animals can’t just instantly adapt to major changes in their environment. Evolution is something which happens on the scale of millions of years. Perhaps you are imagining various species are refusing to adapt immediately, for your convenience, because they want to be annoying?
    So, is that how it will be? Tough luck for any animals that can’t instantly change, rather than people actually accepting that there is a problem here, and trying to do something about it? Nice. Bet you sit on your ass while "Mom" cleans the house too. Newsflash: The world doesn’t need you.

    Link to this
  14. 14. kenstech 1:14 am 02/11/2010

    Killers of the pika!

    I hope all you Global Warming Deniers are satisfied!

    Let the horrible death of this cute innocent little creature be on all your denier heads!!


    Link to this
  15. 15. PhilJourdan 11:31 am 02/11/2010

    Do they come in brown and black? Or just brown hats?

    Link to this
  16. 16. doug 1 6:43 am 02/12/2010

    Utter hogwash. Don’t these people who are gulled into believing this ever go into the rocky mountains or the areas above tree line in the Cascades or the Olympics? Certainly there may continue to be warming. It is a process going on since the end of the Younger Dryas, 10 thousand years ago, and certainly our dependency of polluting fuels such as oil need to be constrained (and they will be when we move on to other fuels, or don’t they even believe their own hype on Peak Oil?), but the pika, or more accurately some isolated populations of them, might be lost, but these populations are species in name only. Their adaptation and specialization is more a genetic artifact that then kind of specialization that make what we think of as a species in the broad sense seperate from other species. The species itself will continue to have lots of habitat for a long time to come and what threats there are to this species is more likely to occur from the kinds of asteroid impacts or planetary volcanism that has brought about the great extinctions of the past, and not from the kind of warming we are witnessing today. These kinds of claims, that Pika will be extinct outside of Alaska (what about Canada?), are the kind of claims that are undermining serious efforts to address genuine problems and real impacts that our human activities are causing, such as deforestation, overfishing, large-scale habitat fragmentation, and unwise resource management practices across the landscape.

    Link to this
  17. 17. David Ford 11:09 am 02/12/2010

    I can’t believe Sci Am is still running articles on GW. I cancelled my subscription several years ago because of an article that was basically a regurgitation of Al Gore’s movie. There are plenty of legitimate scientific challenges to man-made GW that are deserving of publication. If Sci Am is truly "scientific" they will fess up that the science is not settled-there is no consensus, and publish scientific challenge–not political blather.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Sisko 8:19 pm 02/12/2010

    Alan P

    LOL at your comment/insult. Some animals can adapt more quickly to changes in their environment than can others. It was a stupid comment to say that it takes millions of years. Moving to somewhere warmer/colder/ wetter/dryer are forms of adapting. Bummer for the mouse that died out……guess what…..all species eventually die out.

    Link to this
  19. 19. ColleenHarper 12:28 pm 02/23/2010

    To David Ford:
    Are you waiting until every scientist, from every institution, NGO, university, etc, comes on board with total agreement? Or are you willing to scientists of disciplines who are completely separate from climatologists, such as organic chemists(sorry for picking on organic chemists), as being fully qualified to speak on climate as the climatologists?

    Do NOT the vast majority of climatologists who DO accept anthropocentric global warming not have some authority to speak? Does science work only on unanimity or is the overall consensus worthy of consideration?

    Or do you also demand that Scientific American present articles by Scientologists, UFOlogists, Intelligent Designers, etc? If I’m not mistaken, they make a habit of presenting articles that lay out the general consensus, not the radical extremes. And for that I am eternally grateful!

    Link to this
  20. 20. BJ Bonobo 4:50 pm 03/14/2010

    That day is drawing near naturalist_guy . Just check out the responses above yours for some convincing evidence. Folks just don’t care–not even for each other !!

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article