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Characterizing predictors of survival in the American pika (Ochotona princeps), 2016

Wilkening, JL, Ray, C

Journal of Mammalogy :1-10
DOI: 10.1093/jmammal/gyw097
NWT Accession Number: NWT1884


The measurement of stress hormone (glucocorticoid [GC]) concentration is increasingly used to assess the health
of wildlife populations. However, for many species, we do not have a good understanding of the range of GC
concentrations that might indicate a compromised individual. A temporary increase in GC concentration can
prompt the adoption of behavior or activities to promote individual survival. However, chronic GC elevation results
in deleterious effects on health that can reduce survival. In order to use GC concentration as a metric of individual
fitness for a given species, it will be necessary to relate individual demographic rates to GC concentration. We
related survival in American pikas (Ochotona princeps) to 2 different stress metrics, glucocorticoid metabolite
(GCM) concentration in fecal samples and GC concentration in plasma samples. Annual survival was analyzed in
relation to each of these stress metrics as well as other physiological metrics and habitat characteristics at several
sites in the Rocky Mountains. Among the predictors considered, GCM concentration was by far the strongest
predictor of annual survival in pikas, and individuals with higher baseline GCM were less likely to survive.
Our metric of flea load was also negatively related to annual survival. Given the limited time and resources that
characterize many wildlife conservation projects, it is important to establish which endocrine metrics are the
most informative for a species. American pikas have been identified as a sentinel species for detecting effects
of climate change, and several correlational studies have projected range contraction for the species. Our results
suggest that more mechanistic projections might be possible given further study of the relationship between GCM
and climate. Our approach contributes to a better understanding of factors affecting survival in this species and
provides a basis for further research relating individual stress response and survival to environmental change.


climate change, ecophysiology, glucocorticoids, mark-resight, Rocky Mountains, sentinel species, stress response

Associated Niwot LTER Researchers:

Related Field Location(s):

Alpine zone

Related Data by Discipline(s):

Animal ecology


Wilkening, JL, Ray, C, (2016) Characterizing predictors of survival in the American pika (Ochotona princeps). Journal of Mammalogy :1-10 , DOI: 10.1093/jmammal/gyw097

CU Boulder

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #DEB-1637686. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necesarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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