Hikers in Rocky Mountain West have a new tool to help scientists monitor pikas, animals known for their stuffed-like appearance and loud squawking when someone invades their alpine homes.
Pika Patrol, a mobile app designed by Colorado researchers and conservation groups, gives citizen scientists a portal to monitor and track the relatives of climate-sensitive rabbits. Data collected from users will help researchers find places where pikas can live where alpine habitats are getting hotter and less suitable for attractive fur balls.
“We’re really looking at those places where pikas will be resilient to climate change and what we can do to protect them,” said Megan Mueller, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Wild conservation group and co-director of the Colorado Pika Project.
Over the past decade, conservation groups have turned pikas into bloated icons of climate vulnerability. Species have evolved to inhabit upland meadows and rock fields, but many of these adaptations make them particularly sensitive to rising global temperatures.
Thick fur, for example, leaves the pika vulnerable to overheating, Muller said. The animals also collect plants in the warmer months and stack them in rock crevices as a winter food cache. newly Published Research It indicates that climate change can reduce the amount of vegetation available and the snowy pikas depend on insulation.
The new phone app builds on the previous Colorado Pika Project, a partnership between Denver Zoo and Rocky Mountain Wild launched in 2010 to organize citizen scientists and collect field data from specific monitoring sites on the Front Range. More than 570 volunteers are now involved in the project.
Joanna Varner, a professor of biology and pica expert at Colorado Mesa University, said the new app will help expand the project to casual hikers. Users can easily record Pica views, photos and audio recordings and submit the information in a database accessible to researchers.
“It’s designed for anyone who can operate a smartphone,” Varner said. “If you’re not familiar with what a pika looks like or what it looks like, there’s training material in the app.”
She hopes that users will generate new data that can guide Pica’s conservation efforts. a 2016 study Scientists were alarmed after they discovered the pika had disappeared from many of their historic habitats in California, Nevada, Oregon and Utah. a continue studying He discovered that the animals found new homes at lower altitudes, indicating that the species could be more adaptable to higher temperatures than previously thought.
Varner said the species has proven to be more resilient in Colorado, possibly because the state’s diversity of habitats in the high alps may give pikas facing adverse conditions more suitable transportation options.
The new app could also help reveal the kinds of natural features that might help pica survive longer. In the new data stream analysis, Varner plans to carefully consider vegetation cover, animal populations, forest health and recent wildfire activity near the location of the reported pika sightings.
Data from the new application will also help Rocky Mountain Wild determine which pika conservation efforts should be funded with carbon credits sold through the Colorado Carbon Offset Partnership, said Mueller, executive director of Rocky Mountain Wild.
The new program allows individuals or companies to donate money to offset their climate footprint. Eighty percent of the proceeds go to the Southern Plains Land Trust, she said, to purchase and preserve grasslands in southern Colorado that trap and store carbon that might otherwise turn into planet-warming gases. The remaining 20 percent goes to Rocky Mountain Wild to support future pika conservation efforts.
Many carbon offset programs have been criticized for making vague or exaggerated promises of their climate benefits. That’s not the case with this program, Mueller said, noting that all donations help buy grassland that can be converted, developed or plowed for crops.
“Then these areas are permanently protected, so it’s a permanent carbon sink,” she said.
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