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.
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.
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.