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Relating sub-surface ice features to physiological stress in a climate sensitive mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps), 2015

Wilkening, Jennifer L., Ray, Chris, Varner, Johanna

PLOS one 10 (3) :e0119327
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119327


The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is considered a sentinel species for detecting eco- logical effects of climate change. Pikas are declining within a large portion of their range, and ongoing research suggests loss of sub-surface ice as a mechanism. However, no studies have demonstrated physiological responses of pikas to sub-surface ice features. Here we present the first analysis of physiological stress in pikas living in and adjacent to habitats underlain by ice. Fresh fecal samples were collected non-invasively from two adjacent sites in the Rocky Mountains (one with sub-surface ice and one without) and analyzed for glucocorticoid metabolites (GCM). We also measured sub-surface microclimates in each habitat. Results indicate lower GCM concentration in sites with sub-surface ice, suggesting that pikas are less stressed in favorable microclimates resulting from sub-surface ice features. GCM response was well predicted by habitat characteristics associated with sub-surface ice features, such as lower mean summer temperatures. These results suggest that pikas inhabiting areas without sub-surface ice features are experiencing higher levels of physiological stress and may be more susceptible to changing climates. Although post-deposition environmental effects can confound analyses based on fecal GCM, we found no evidence for such effects in this study. Sub-surface ice features are key to water cycling and storage and will likely represent an increasingly important component of water resources in a warming climate. Fecal samples collected from additional watersheds as part of current pika monitoring programs could be used to further characterize relationships between pika stress and sub-surface ice features.

Associated Niwot LTER Researchers:

Related Field Location(s):

Alpine zoneGreen Lakes ValleyNiwot Ridge

Related Data by Discipline(s):

Animal ecology


Wilkening, Jennifer L., Ray, Chris, Varner, Johanna, (2015) Relating sub-surface ice features to physiological stress in a climate sensitive mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). PLOS one 10 (3) :e0119327 , DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119327

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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