The plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) is a keystone species for biodiversity on the Tibetan plateau

Andrew T. Smith, J. Marc Foggin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

328 Scopus citations


It is necessary to look at the big picture when managing biological resources on the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) plateau. Plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) are poisoned widely across the plateau. Putative reasons for these control measures are that pika populations may reach high densities and correspondingly reduce forage for domestic livestock (yak, sheep, horses), and because they may be responsible for habitat degradation. In contrast, we highlight the important role the plateau pika plays as a keystone species in the Tibetan plateau ecosystem. The plateau pika is a keystone species because it: (i) makes burrows that are the primary homes to a wide variety of small birds and lizards; (ii) creates microhabitat disturbance that results in an increase in plant species richness; (iii) serves as the principal prey for nearly all of the plateau's predator species; (iv) contributes positively to ecosystem-level dynamics. The plateau pika should be managed in concert with other uses of the land to ensure preservation of China's native biodiversity, as well as long-term sustainable use of the pastureland by domestic livestock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-240
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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