Archive from September, 2016
Sep 14, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

A message from India!

Hello teamPika16!

I am Sabuj, a post-doctoral researcher from India working on a pika species that lives in the Himalaya, “Royle’s pika” (Ochotona roylei). I’ve been studying Royle’s pika in the western Himalaya for 9 years, and I’m excited to compare notes with you about how Himalayan pikas differ from pikas in the Colorado Rockies. Here is an adult Royle’s pika in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Western Himalaya, India.

pikablog_sabuj06092016-photo1

There are many species of pika in the Himalaya, but little is known about them. My first search of the scientific literature turned up only three articles, all published during late 1960s by Takeo Kawamichi on the winter behavior of two pika species in the Himalaya of Nepal. There were literally zero studies between 1969 and 2007! I had to rely on information from the literature on the American pika to guide my initial Himalayan research. Though my study species lives in taluses and boulder fields like your American pika, it’s behavior is quite different.

Until I joined Dr. Chris Ray for my Fulbright project on Niwot Ridge in Colorado, I wondered what a “winter haypile” might look like, because food-hoarding behavior is not at all prominent among most of the Himalayan pika species (except the Plateau pika in the Trans Himalayan region). Royle’s pika generally forages on herbs and grasses in alpine meadows, rarely straying more than 5 meters from the rocks and crevices they use for shelter. In areas with little cover for escaping predators, they will often store forage temporarily in front of their crevices, to feed on during hours of high predation risk. Unlike pika habitats in the western United States, the western Himalaya receives a lot of rainfall during much of the year, so many of the rocks are covered with moss. Royle’s pika feeds on these mosses when their habitat is snow covered during winter (December to February), which is probably why they don’t need to cache food for the winter. Here’s an adult Royle’s pika hiding among some moss-covered talus at Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Western Himalaya, India.

pikablog_sabuj06092016-photo2

The lack of hoarding behavior and food caches or haypiles, and the fact that Royle’s pika doesn’t vocalize as much as the American pika, all make it difficult to find each pika’s activity center. And without identifying activity centers, which are the best places for trapping, it’s hard to sample and mark pikas for genetic, behavioral and physiological studies. Another way to get genetic samples is to stretch adhesive tape between rocks to snare hair from passing pikas, but high humidity in the Himalaya spoils that approach, too! But there’s always a way around every problem; for my current research on gene flow, I’m sampling genetic material from pika poop.

Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your blog! It is written so wonderfully. While reading each post, I was wondering about which data you are collecting and what analyses you are planning to do. It is really exciting!

Just like in Airy’s blog, in the western Himalaya I have also seen pikas remain active at night. I would be interested to know if the pikas’ nocturnal activity varies with the phase of the moon. Will you be doing those analyses?

In 2013, while camera trapping to estimate abundance of nocturnal mammals in the eastern Himalaya, one of my colleagues noticed pikas in both daytime and night-time photos. At the den of a red fox, one camera repeatedly recorded pikas and foxes, prey and predators, using the same location at different times of day!

Hopefully all this research will help us understand, in a more holistic way, how climate change might affect pika.

Hugs, Sabuj

Sep 5, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Behavior research dream: from Ocean to Alpine.

My name is Airy Peralta, I grew up at the Southeast of Mexico in the city of Villahermosa and moved to La Paz, Mexico to study what I thought was my dream, marine biology. As time in my undergraduate program passed and I explored many areas of research, I discovered my real passion was ethology (the science of animal behavior).

By the end of my undergraduate program I got the opportunity to do a research project for my honor thesis about blue whale behavior. This project got me camping on a little island for 3 months where I had the opportunity of observe a bunch of animals (marine and terrestrial) and their behavior. I knew that I wanted to know more and not only about marine animals, so I decided to find a good ecology program for graduate school. In Mexico there aren’t any programs focused in ethology, but only general biology, fisheries, and resources management, so I knew I had to get out of there.

Airy doing whale research

After much research I found many good programs in the U.S.A., but the problem was that my English wasn’t very good, so I enrolled in the Au Pair program. While in this program I met Joseph Merritt, a senior mammalogist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. He gave me one of his books with a little cute animal on the cover that was carrying grass and flowers and that was the first time I saw a pika. Before this I did not know what a pika was. As I kept reading I got more interested and discovered that it wasn’t a mouse as I thought but a kind of rabbit. I called him and asked him if he knew about researchers in Colorado that work with this animal. He told me about Chris Ray, so I contacted her to see if I could volunteer. Fortunately, she gave me the opportunity to experience another kind of research.

Airy doing pika work - collage

So I passed from walking at sea level to hiking, biking, talking, sledding in trash bags, collecting field data and making new friends in an alpine environment. This was my best summer in years. For #teamPika16 I was given the opportunity to start a behavioral project using camera traps. This is awesome because with cameras you can discover what pikas do when there is no human presence. Cameras also let us know that pika are not only active during the day, but at night too. This leads us to question if are they more active at night or in the morning, and also how the proportion of nocturnal activity is changing as the climate is changing.

Automated photos of a pika territory at night versus during the day

To answer this question won’t be an easy job. Pikas are really quick and elusive animals, leading the camera trap to trigger many photos, plus the photos that other animals trigger; this leaves us with about 4000 photos to analyze so far! It will take some time but we will get there and I am pretty sure this will lead to interesting results. Until then, see you next season.

-Airy