Facing a Changing World: Thermal Physiology of American Pikas (Ochotona princeps)

Hans W. Otto, James A. Wilson, Erik A. Beever

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12 Scopus citations


American pikas (Ochotona princeps) are of concern with respect to warming montane temperatures; however, little information exists regarding their physiological ability to adapt to warming temperatures. Previous studies have shown that pikas have high metabolism and low thermal conductance, which allow survival during cold winters. It has been hypothesized that these characteristics may be detrimental, given the recent warming trends observed in montane ecosystems. We examined resting metabolic rate, surface activity, and den and ambient temperatures (Ta) of pikas in late summer (August 2011 and 2012) at 2 locations in the Rocky Mountains. Resting metabolic rate was calculated to be 2.02 mL O2 · g-1h-1, with a lower critical temperature (LCT) of 28.1 ± 0.2 °C. No upper critical temperature (UCT) could be determined from our data; therefore, the estimated thermoneutral zone (TNZ) was 28.1 °C to at least 35.0 °C (upper experimental temperature). Pikas in this study showed the same bimodal above-talus activity patterns reported in previous studies. Den temperatures in Colorado were correlated with, but consistently lower than, current ambient temperatures. Wyoming den temperatures showed a weak correlation with Ta 20 min prior to the current den temperature. This study is one of few to present data on the physiological response pikas may have to current warming conditions, and the first to perform metabolic measurements in situ. Our data support conclusions of previous studies, specifically MacArthur and Wang (1973, 1974) and Smith (1974), which indicated American pikas may not have the physiological ability to cope with high Ta. Our results also highlight the importance of shaded regions below the talus rocks for behavioral thermoregulation by pikas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-445
Number of pages17
JournalWestern North American Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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