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Pika could be a candidate for endangered listing as a result of global warming

February 12, 2009 |  5:43 pm

The tiny pika could soon find itself on the endangered species list as a result of global warming

The tiny pika, a relative of the rabbit, is at home in cold climates and is particularly adapted to high-altitude mountain ranges like the Sierra.  But with mountain temperatures rising as a result of global warming, the little creatures (who weigh about a third of a pound) may soon find themselves on the endangered species list.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement today, which establishes a May deadline for federal authorities to make a decision on whether the pika needs federal protection.  If so, it could be officially listed as endangered by early 2010. 

The pika would be the first mammal in the continental U.S. needing federal protection as a result of global warming. Our colleague Eric Bailey at the Greenspace blog has the details:

A third of the pika populations in the mountains of Nevada and Oregon have become extinct in the last century as temperatures warmed. Those that remain in Western states are found 900 feet further upslope. With predictions that U.S. temperatures will rise twice as fast this century as they did over the last 100 years, experts fear the creature could disappear from huge swaths of the American West.

Warm temperatures can literally cause the critters to die of overheating. Climate change also threatens to reduce the insulating winter snowpack they depend on and probably will shorten the foraging season for an animal that weighs just a third of a pound but collects more than 60 pounds of vegetation to survive the winter.

"The pika's shrinking habitat is a harbinger of what may happen to many species if we don't address global warming now," said Greg Loarie of the environmental law firm Earthjustice. "With this settlement, we are hopeful that the new administration will take this issue seriously."

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Center for Biological Diversity

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