PIKAS IN THE BITTERROOT AND THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Well-known Wildlife Biologist, Kerry Foresman, will present a program on Pikas, those cute little creatures one hears up in the high country but seldom sees, May 15th at the Bitterroot Audubon’s May meeting. Although Kerry has done extensive research on mammals of Montana for over 40 years, he will focus his talk on the Pikas specifically in the Bitterroot Mountains.
“The pika (or cony) is a small rabbit which inhabits talus slopes of mountainous regions throughout western North America from New Mexico and California to British Columbia. It is most commonly found at higher elevations where temperatures are cooler and prefers alpine and subalpine habitats. It has evolved in these regions over the past 500,000 years and over this time, from the last glacial period as temperatures rose this species became isolated in montane habitats and thoroughly adapted to this environment. So much so, that it is now easily stressed by warmer temperatures; 75o F can be life threatening and at these temperatures animals will quickly retreat to the cooler environment under the talus. Their small size which limits their dispersal capabilities, their preference for higher elevation rock slopes which are patchily distributed, and their heat-sensitive physiological constraints have not only isolated their populations but have made them particularly sensitive to climate changes which are now occurring across the world. In order to determine what affect predicted climate changes may have on pika populations in Montana accurate baseline population distributions need to be obtained.
The Bitterroot Mountains have historically supported pikas, the first observation documented in the Montana Natural Heritage Database recorded on June 7, 1910. Additional records were recorded in Bass Creek this same year and over the following years this database has increased. In the 1940’s, Dr. Philip L. Wright, the mammalogist at the University of Montana often traveled throughout this mountain range and added many records, as have other individuals up to the present. Unfortunately, before the availability of GPS devices, descriptions of earlier sightings were often very sparse so that it has been difficult to identify their exact locations. Also, no standardized assessments of these populations were made so no true baselines are available.
Because no firm overview of these populations in the Bitterroot were available Kerry decided to initiate studies to create such a baseline so that subsequent monitoring over the next 50-100 years can provide meaningful information on population trends and effects of future climate changes. To this end he worked with an honors undergraduate student at UM, Shannon Hilty. Their efforts will support more recent attempts being made to pull together all distributional information on this species across the intermountain region, these being led by Dr. Erik Beever of the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman.”
Kerry R. Foresman is an Emeritus Professor of Biology and Wildlife Biology at The University of Montana, retiring in 2013 after 35 years, the past 30 at UM. His research primarily focuses on the ecology of small mammal species (shrews, bats, pikas, rodents) as well as mid-level carnivores (e.g., American marten, fisher, river otters, and swift fox). He has worked extensively in Southeast Asia, particularly the Tibetan Plateau of China, the mountains of Taiwan, and Bhutan. He is the author of “Mammals of Montana”, the first comprehensive, illustrated account of ecology, behavior, distribution and reproduction of all Montana mammals, published by Mountain Press Publishing Company in Missoula.
Join the Bitterroot Audubon Society Monday, May 15th, 7:00 P.M. at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center to hear this amazing speaker and his fascinating topic. The Refuge is located north of Stevensville on Wildfowl Lane, just off of the Eastside Highway. The public is invited. For additional information contact Becky Peters (369-5210).