Local Pikas Provide Clues For Climate Impacts

By: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy, Aspen Public Radio
August 26, 2018

For nearly a decade, biologists with the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wild and the Denver Zoo have studied pikas on the Front Range; this summer, that work is expanding to the White River National Forest. Scientists want to know how a warming climate will impact the alpine ecosystem and are hoping pikas can provide some clues.

Pikas are pretty distinctive.

“They look like a potato, with mickey mouse ears, and no visible tail, and they’re just adorable,” said Megan Mueller, a conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild and co-director of their Front Range Pika Project, a decade-old study of the small mammals. Mueller coordinates field studies, including those on Independence Pass in the White River National Forest.

On a recent morning, Mueller was looking to record where pikas are now living, so she lead the way off trail, into a stretch of talus, a field of jagged, large rocks.

“The best place to look for them is underneath kind of the largest rocks in the rock field, kind of along the edge,” she said.

We scrambled over large boulders along the side of a meadow, listening for the squeaky, chew-toy sound that is clear evidence that pikas are living in this talus field. This is also the first step for citizen scientists who will be participating in Mueller’s project.

Volunteers will trek to some key sites, note if pikas are present, and then record information about the habitat. Mueller said they’ll note things like how big the rocks are, the proximity and types of vegetation and the depth of the crevices under the talus.

Read and listen to more at Aspen Public Radio.

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