Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research

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Vol. 42, No. 1, 2010

pp. 76-88

Distribution and Climatic Relationships of the American Pika (Ochotona princeps) in the Sierra Nevada and Western Great Basin, U.S.A.; Periglacial Landforms as Refugia in Warming Climates

Constance I. Millar and Robert D. Westfall

We used a rapid assessment to survey American pika (Ochotona princeps) populations and documented 420 pika site occurrences in southwestern U.S.A. These included 329 sites from the Sierra Nevada (SN), California; 67 from six southwestern Great Basin (swGB) ranges, California and Nevada; 16 from three central Great Basin ranges, Nevada; and 8 from the central Oregon Cascades. Of these, 67% were currently occupied, 27% modern (indirectly scored active), and 6% old. Sites were grouped into 148 demes, 88 regions, and 11 mountain ranges. Current elevations ranged from 1645 m (1827 m excluding Oregon) to 3887 m, extending the lower elevational range of the species at the study latitude. Sites were distributed on all slope aspects with a preference for north to easterly aspects, and without preference for substrate. Rock-ice-feature (RIF) till, notably rock-glacier and boulder-stream landforms, accounted for 83% of the sites. Climatic relationships from the PRISM model for the SN and swGB sites showed wide tolerance, with average precipitation 910 mm, average minimum temperature –3.9 oC, and average maximum temperature 8.7 oC. Average minimum temperatures for old sites were not significantly different from recent sites, whereas average maximum temperatures were significantly higher in old sites. Unusual features of RIF landforms make them important refugia for pikas as climates warm. In contrast to studies that document species vulnerability elsewhere, pikas in the SN and swGB appear to be thriving and tolerating a wide range of thermal environments.