Behavioral Ecology of American Pikas (Ochotona princeps) at Mono Craters, California: Living on the Edge

Andrew T. Smith, John D. Nagy, Constance I. Millar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The behavioral ecology of the American pika (Ochotona princeps) was investigated at a relatively hot south-facing, low-elevation site in the Mono Craters, California, a habitat quite different from the upper montane regions more typically inhabited by this species and where most prior investigations have been conducted. Mono Craters pikas exhibited a behavioral profile that contrasted significantly with that of pikas found in upper montane regions. Mono Craters pikas were less surface active than pikas in studies at high-elevation sites, although their rate of short-call vocalizations was similar. Mono Craters pikas did not exhibit typical foraging behavior: they fed and collected hay at significantly reduced rates, and did not construct large central-place hay piles. Social behaviors (conspecific aggression, social tolerance, avoidance) were infrequent compared with data from prior studies in upper montane environments. The Mono Craters site appears to be one of the warmest localities in which pikas have been observed. Recorded talus surface temperatures consistently exceeded 30 °C, and temperatures >40 °C were commonly recorded. In contrast, temperatures measured in the matrix of the talus were consistently cooler, and the apparent insulating effect of talus, as measured by the difference between surface and matrix temperatures, was typically most pronounced on the hottest days. Although pika activity was most frequent in early morning, late afternoon, and at night, pikas were also active during the hottest part of the day, presumably because of their ability to behaviorally thermoregulate by retreating into the cooler talus matrix. Data on populations of pikas which inhabit marginal sites can help us understand how pikas and other montane animals might respond in a world of climate change so that we may more effectively plan for their conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-484
Number of pages26
JournalWestern North American Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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