The pika (Ochotona princeps) is considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change. While abundant in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, pika numbers are declining in some areas of lower elevations in response to increased warming, which reduces their suitable habitat. While the recent US Fish and Wildlife Service review of the pika found no current need to list the species as threatened or endangered, pikas will likely disappear from some lower elevation or warmer sites.
Number in Yellowstone
Where to See
Tower and Mammoth areas, most often.
Identification and Behavior
Pikas are vulnerable to loss of habitat related to climate change.
Pikas are territorial. They inhabit rocky alpine and sub-alpine zones feeding on the vegetation that fringes their preferred talus slopes. Because pikas do not hibernate, this relative of the rabbit must gather enough plant materials during the short growing season to survive the winter. Piles of drying vegetation, called haystacks, and a distinctive high-pitched call are the most recognizable indicators of active pika habitat. Prolific breeders, pikas usually have two litters of young each summer. The mortality rate is high for the youngsters and the first litter has a greater rate of survival. These small mammals are sensitive to temperatures above 77.9°F (25.5°C); therefore, they are most active during cooler parts of the day.
The National Park Service Pikas in Peril project, a three-year project started in 2010, assessed the vulnerability of the pika to climate change by studying pika populations within western national parks: Crater Lake, Great Sand Dunes, Grand Teton, Lassen Volcanic, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks, and in Craters of the Moon and Lava Beds National Monuments.
More information can be found at the project website.
Last updated: July 12, 2017