Extinction rates of American pikas have increased nearly five-fold over the last decade within the Great Basin region of the western U.S., and the climate-sensitive species is moving to higher elevations at a rate
11 times faster than during the 20th century, according to a new study. Erik Beever of the U.S. Geological Survey says the dramatic shift likely demonstrates the increasingly critical role of climate in the local loss of the species, a small hamster-like creature that lives in cool, mountainous habitats. Using 110 years of data on pika distribution across the 150,000-square-mile region, researchers found that four of 10 local pika extinctions observed at 25 sites have occurred since 1999. During that period, pikas have moved up mountain slopes at a rate of about 145 meters (475 feet) per decade, compared with an average rate of about 13 meters per decade during the previous century, according to the study, which will be published in the journal Global Change Biology.
Photo by Donald M. Jones/Minden Pictures