|Plateau pika range|
It is a small diurnal and non-hibernating mammal weighing about 140g when full grown. The animals are reddish tan on the top-side with more of a whitish yellow on their under-belly.
They prefer to live in elevations of 3,100 to 5,000 m, mostly in the Tibetan Plateau, which is where the common name originates from. The species is found in China, Pakistan, India, and Nepal in high alpine deserts, steppe and meadows, as well as tropical and subtropical montane forests.
Role in the ecosystem
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.
According to the Chinese biologists who have studied the wildlife of the Hoh Xil (northern part of the Tibetan Plateau), plateau pikas are the favorite food of the area's brown bears. In addition to its role as a prey base, the plateau pika is important for soil health in meadows; the burrowing of the species helps to aerate the soil. The species is currently considered threatened, mostly due to aggressive poisoning campaigns by Chinese populations, predominantly to eliminate competition for food with livestock.
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.
- Smith, A.T. & Johnston, C.H. (2008). "Ochotona curzoniae". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
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Richard, Harris; Zhou, Jiake; Ji, Yinqiu; Zhang, Kai; Yang, Chunyan; Douglas, Yu (1 Dec 2014). "Evidence that the Tibetan fox is an obligate predator of the plateau pika: conservation implications". Journal of mammalogy 95 (6): 1207–1221. doi:10.1644/14-MAMM-A-021.