Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

PLoS One


doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119327. eCollection 2015.


The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is considered a sentinel species for detecting ecological effects of climate change. Pikas are declining within a large portion of their range, and ongoing research suggests loss of sub-surface ice as a mechanism. However, no studies have demonstrated physiological responses of pikas to sub-surface ice features. Here we present the first analysis of physiological stress in pikas living in and adjacent to habitats underlain by ice. Fresh fecal samples were collected non-invasively from two adjacent sites in the Rocky Mountains (one with sub-surface ice and one without) and analyzed for glucocorticoid metabolites (GCM). We also measured sub-surface microclimates in each habitat. Results indicate lower GCM concentration in sites with sub-surface ice, suggesting that pikas are less stressed in favorable microclimates resulting from sub-surface ice features. GCM response was well predicted by habitat characteristics associated with sub-surface ice features, such as lower mean summer temperatures. These results suggest that pikas inhabiting areas without sub-surface ice features are experiencing higher levels of physiological stress and may be more susceptible to changing climates. Although post-deposition environmental effects can confound analyses based on fecal GCM, we found no evidence for such effects in this study. Sub-surface ice features are key to water cycling and storage and will likely represent an increasingly important component of water resources in a warming climate. Fecal samples collected from additional watersheds as part of current pika monitoring programs could be used to further characterize relationships between pika stress and sub-surface ice features.