|Plateau pika range|
The plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae), also known as the black-lipped pika, is a small diurnal and non-hibernating mammal weighing about 140g when full grown. Their main habitat is at elevations of 3200 to 5300 meters above sea level in the meadows of the Tibetan Plateau, an area that contains harsh climates which are cold and dry with temperatures that go as low as -14 degrees Celsius. They are also found in Pakistan, India, and in Nepal in high alpine deserts, steppes and meadows. Plateau pikas are considered to be a keystone species as they play a role in recycling nutrients in soil, providing food to predators such as; foxes, weasels, falcons, Asia pole cat, upland buzzard, and owls. They also provide microhabitats by increasing plant richness and their burrows provides nests for small birds and reptiles.
Mating and population
Plateau pikas have mating systems such as monogamous and polygynandrous groups, which contain about 3 males and 3 to 4 females per family along with their offspring. Females can produce 2 to 5 litters of about 2 to 7 offspring with a 3 week interval in between each litter which is why this group of lagomorphs are known to have the fastest growth rates of their order. Their breeding season lasts from April to August and the young do not disperse in the year of birth. Males form hierarchies and females are usually philopatric forming reproductive alliances, helping each other in the care of their offspring, males also contribute in parental care when deterring a predator by emitting an alarm call. Males and females both contribute in protecting their family groups from intruders displaying aggressive behaviors towards others who are not part of their family.
Since plateau pikas live in such extremely cold environments and are a non-hibernating species, they have acquired physiological adaptations to better assist with their survival. These adaptations include their high resting metabolic rate and non- shivering thermogenesis along with the production of leptin which is a thermogenesis regulatory hormone.
Conservation and management
The plateau pika as well as being considered to be a keystone species is also considered to as a pest because of the degradation is causes to crops which causes a competition in foraging with the livestock of farmers such as yaks, sheep, horses, etc., which in turn affects their livelihood. The plateau pika is an herbivore that eats plants such as; bog sedge/krobesia, grasses, perennial, turf, etc. Farmers believed that a good method to manage pikas and stop them from foraging in their land was to start poisoning programs which began to cause secondary poisoning which was believed to lead to loss of biodiversity. However the attempts in poisoning the pikas did not have a long term affect as they would repopulate within the next breeding season and would return to the same population size. A second form of management is fencing, which also did not prove to be very successful in preventing foraging by the plateau pika. It is generally agreed that a solution will need to include improving livestock management and pest control, biologist believe that a way to accomplish this would be to gain a better understanding of how populations of pikas respond to control programs so that they can change the patterns of livestock grazing. Therefore because of their rapid growth pikas are considered to be an animal of least concern.
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