In 2010, the American pika (Ochotona princeps fenisex) was denied federal protection based on limited evidence of persistence in low-elevation environments. Studies in nonalpine areas have been limited to relatively few environments, and it is unclear whether patterns observed elsewhere (e.g., Bodie, CA) represent other nonalpine habitats. This study was designed to establish pika presence in a new location, determine distribution within the surveyed area, and evaluate influences of elevation, vegetation, lava complexity, and distance to habitat edge on pika site occupancy. In 2011 and 2012, we conducted surveys for American pika on four distinct subalpine lava flows of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Oregon, USA. Field surveys were conducted at predetermined locations within lava flows via silent observation and active searching for pika sign. Site habitat characteristics were included as predictors of occupancy in multinomial regression models. Above and belowground temperatures were recorded at a subsample of pika detection sites. Pika were detected in 26% (2011) and 19% (2012) of survey plots. Seventy-four pika were detected outside survey plot boundaries. Lava complexity was the strongest predictor of pika occurrence, where pika were up to seven times more likely to occur in the most complicated lava formations. Pika were two times more likely to occur with increasing elevation, although they were found at all elevations in the study area. This study expands the known distribution of the species and provides additional evidence for persistence in nonalpine habitats. Results partially support the predictive occupancy model developed for pika at Craters of the Moon National Monument, another lava environment. Characteristics of the lava environment clearly influence pika site occupancy, but habitat variables reported as important in other studies were inconclusive here. Further work is needed to gain a better understanding of the species’ current distribution and ability to persist under future climate conditions.
We modeled current and future distribution of suitable habitat for the talus-obligate montane mammal Ochotona princeps (American pika) across the western USA under increases in temperature associated with contemporary climate change, to: a) compare forecasts using only climate variables vs using those plus habitat considerations; b) identify possible patterns of range collapse (center vs margins, and large- vs small-sized patches); and c) compare conservation and management implications of changes at two taxonomic resolutions, and using binned- vs binary-probability maps. We used MaxEnt to analyze relationships between occurrence records and climatic variables to develop a bioclimatic-envelope model, which we refined by masking with a deductive appropriate-habitat filter based on suitable land-cover types. We used this final species-distribution model to predict distribution of suitable habitat under range-wide temperature increases from 1 to 7°C, in 1°C increments; we also compared these results to distribution under IPCC-forecasted climates for 2050 and 2080. Though all currently recognized lineages and traditionally defined subspecies were predicted to lose increasing amounts of habitat as temperatures rose, the most-dramatic range losses were predicted to occur among traditional subspecies. Nineteen of the 31 traditional US pika subspecies were predicted to lose > 98% of their suitable habitat under a 7˚C increase in the mean temperature of the warmest quarter of the year, and lineages were predicted to lose 88 95% of suitable habitat. Under a 4˚C increase, traditional subspecies averaged a predicted 73% (range = 44–99%) reduction. The appropriate-habitat filter removed 40–6% of the predicted climatically suitable pixels, in a stepped and monotonically decreasing fashion as predicted temperatures rose. Predicted range collapse proceeded until only populations in island-biogeographic ‘mainlands’ remained, which were not in the geographic range center. We used this model system to illustrate possible distributional shifts under stepped changes in biologically relevant aspects of climate, importance of land cover and taxonomic level in species-distribution forecasts, and impact of using a single threshold vs multiple categories of persistence probability in predicted range maps; we encourage additional research to further investigate the generality of these patterns.