Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2017

Document Type

Project/Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)

College/School

College of Arts and Sciences

Department/Program

Environmental Management

First Advisor

John Callaway

Abstract

Mountain ecosystems offer substantial ecosystem services but are highly sensitive to climate change. The American pika (Ochotona princeps) serves as an indicator species of climate change and a model organism for studying its impacts on mountain mammals. Certain aspects of plant community composition and structure can function as predictors of pika distribution, but understanding the links between climate, forage quality, and foraging behavior is necessary to identify the mediating mechanism. Pika foraging pressure help shape the local plant community, which can confound modeling efforts and must be considered when evaluating the influence of vegetation on pika persistence. Plant Secondary Metabolites (PSMs) appear to be the most important indicators of forage quality, driving winter diet selection, especially in high elevation areas with extreme seasonality. Nutritional components, such as protein, nitrogen, and water content, are more important to summer diet. Foraging selectivity for nutritional components changes in response to environmental conditions and forage availability, suggesting increased importance as climate warms and dries. While metrics of heat stress, cold stress, and water budget appear to be significant divers of pika distribution, the heterogeneity with which climate impacts pikas across their range calls for a place-based perspective. The transformation of alpine plant communities in response to climate change may further stress pika populations as preferred forage items become scarcer. Pikas highlight the complexity and idiosyncrasy of alpine ecosystems. In order to address the challenges faced by pikas, managers should identify refugia and vulnerable populations, install plants high in PSMs and nutritional components, work to control invasive plants, consider legal and regulatory protections, and expand monitoring efforts.

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