Cousins to hares and rabbits (lagomorphs), collared pikas can be seen nimbly scampering across rocky alpine slopes, often carrying bits of vegetation in their mouths. Collared pikas are a species of conservation concern in Alaska and Canada due to their potential vulnerability to alpine shrub expansion and a warming climate. In light of these concerns, there is an urgent need for information on how resilient pikas are to environmental change across their range.
Specifically, we are addressing the following objectives: a) conduct a mark-recapture study of pikas to estimate adult and juvenile survival, b) assess stress levels of pikas across an elevational gradient, and c) quantify dietary selectivity and nutritional quality of different forage types, and d) survey sites across Alaska to understand patterns of occupancy and abundance across space and time. This study is supported by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (WSFR - SWG Grants T-32-1, T-33-2020), and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Collaborators at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Idaho, Washington State University, Colorado Mesa University, and the University of Oklahoma are helping to make this research possible.
Since the start of fieldwork in 2018, we have captured and tagged 134 pikas and will continue to resight them based on their unique colored ear tag combinations. This information will allow us to estimate apparent survival, providing useful information on the health of pika populations experiencing different environmental conditions. For each pika we captured, we collected feces for stress hormone analysis and a tiny ear tissue sample for genetic analysis. We conducted 25 cafeteria trials with individual pikas to understand selection of different alpine shrubs, grasses, and forbs. In addition, our UAA collaborators successfully surveyed 47 historically occupied sites, characterized the vegetation, and collected plant samples from pika haypiles. We are currently analyzing the data and look forward to learning more about this intrepid alpine species.