American pika

The region north of Lake Tahoe, California used to provide the perfect habitat for a cute, rabbit-like critter called a pika. But not anymore.

Stewart: “Pikas have gone locally extinct within that area.”

That’s Joseph Stewart at the University of California-Santa Cruz. For the last several years, he’s searched a 64 square mile area, looking for signs of Pikas and finding none.

Stewart: “It’s the largest area of pika extirpation documented in in the modern era.”

He says global warming is to blame. Pikas are adapted for the cold, with high metabolisms and thick fur covering them from the bottoms of their feet to the insides of their ears.

Stewart: “These same adaptations that allow them to survive during the wintertime also make them very vulnerable to overheating in the summertime.”

So as summers get warmer, pikas spend more time hiding underground to escape the heat and less time foraging for the food that keeps them alive through the winter.

He says the disappearance of pikas in this area is just one example of how climate change threatens wildlife.

Stewart: “If we don’t rein in climate change pollution, about one in six species on earth are vulnerable to extinction this century.”

Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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