Pikas invade Wild Joe’s Furry little rabbits “rock out” for annual Craighead Institute fundraiser

Thursday Dec. 26th, 2013

In what’s become an annual Christmas tradition, dozens of furry little Pikas have taken over the downtown display window at Wild Joe*s Coffee Spot. Last year, Pikas rode atop a vintage model railroad through a miniature model of Bozeman. This year, the mischievous rabbits are rockin’ out of their native rock environment, banding together in mock rock groups “Stone Temple Pikas” and “Pika Floyd” and inhabiting vintage turntables and stereo gear.

Plush Pika toys are for sale while they last at Wild Joe*s for $10 each with 100% of proceeds going to the Craighead Institute, a Bozeman-based applied science and research organization with a 50-year history of research on climate change and conservation around the world.

Why Pikas? The American Pika (Ochotona princeps) is the smallest member in the rabbit family that includes rabbits and hares. Pikas are found mainly in moist subalpine and alpine habitats dominated by talus slopes. They require cool microclimates to regulate their body temperature. They are extremely well adapted to mountainous environments, but are sensitive to climatic extremes and temperatures above 80 F can be lethal in as little as six to eight hours. To stay cool, Pikas stay in rock crevices or under large boulders until the ambient temperature cools.  Pikas do not hibernate and remain active all winter long.  They store large “haypiles” or stores of vegetation in the late summer and fall that they cache and will utilize all winter long.  In Montana Pikas typically range between 5,500-10,500 feet in elevation and inhabit rocky talus or boulder fields throughout the western part of the state.

Climate change effects on all species will first be felt at high latitudes and at the poles. As humans, we will be able to mitigate some of the climate challenges through migration, innovative technologies and change in political policies. Plant and wildlife species on the other hand will be limited in their ability to withstand climate change. Species will either adapt by migrating latitudinal or altitudinal within their ranges, finding microclimate refugia that are buffered from extremes, or perish.
Pikas are highly sensitive to warm temperatures and physiologically unable to survive if the temperature exceeds a certain threshold serve as excellent indicators of a changing climate. These denizens of high alpine environments are already feeling the heat. Populations are being extirpated in the United States’ Great Basin of Nevada, and in the Tian Shan mountains of China. Evidence suggests increased temperatures and a changing climate are to blame.

Despite the recent cold snap in Montana, globally, this past year was the warmest ever on record. As the planet warms, and endangered species such as the Pika dwindle, funding for smaller non-profit organizations like The Craighead are cooling off. “This has been one of the toughest years ever for funding and research grants,” said executive director Lance Craighead.