The American pika (Ochotona princeps), a mountain-dwelling rabbit relative, is known for its ability to survive in cold climates. How well the animals can adapt to warmer temperatures differs across populations. A study published yesterday (September 23) in Nature Climate Change suggests that geography is more important in determining a pika’s adaptability to climate than genetics, which was previously thought to be the main driver.
A team of researchers led by Adam Smith at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Erik Beever at the US Geological Survey Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center analyzed data from museums, wildlife agencies, and researchers on how pika populations responded to changes in climate. They found that classifying the animals by ecological region best explained variability in responses to changing environments. Survival may be in part due to such habitat-specific factors as what kinds of plants or rocks provide shade.
These findings have implications for future conservation efforts in a warming world. “Our results suggest that geography (that is, ecoregional variation) may be a more relevant template for understanding species’ relationships to climate,” the authors write.
A. B. Smith et al., “Alternatives to genetic affinity as a context for within-species response to climate,” doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0584-8, Nat Clim Change, 2019.
Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.