Plastic pikas: Behavioural flexibility in low-elevation pikas (Ochotona princeps)

Behavioural Processes
By: , and 



Behaviour is an important mechanism for accommodating rapid environmental changes. Understanding a species’ capacity for behavioural plasticity is therefore a key, but understudied, aspect of developing tractable conservation and management plans under climate-change scenarios. Here, we quantified behavioural differences between American pikas (Ochotona princeps) living in an atypical, low-elevation habitat versus those living in a more-typical, alpine habitat. With respect to foraging strategy, low-elevation pikas spent more time consuming vegetation and less time caching food for winter, compared to high-elevation pikas. Low-elevation pikas were also far more likely to be detected in forested microhabitats off the talus than their high-elevation counterparts at midday. Finally, pikas living in the atypical habitat had smaller home range sizes compared to those in typical habitat or any previously published home ranges for this species. Our findings indicate that behavioural plasticity likely allows pikas to accommodate atypical conditions in this low-elevation habitat, and that they may rely on critical habitat factors such as suitable microclimate refugia to behaviourally thermoregulate. Together, these results suggest that behavioural adjustments are one important mechanism by which pikas can persist outside of their previously appreciated dietary and thermal niches.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Plastic pikas: Behavioural flexibility in low-elevation pikas (Ochotona princeps)
Series title Behavioural Processes
DOI 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.01.009
Volume 125
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier Science Pub. Co.
Publisher location New York, NY
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 63
Last page 71
Country United States
State Oregon
Other Geospatial Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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