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Geographic and taxonomic variation in adaptive capacity among mountain-dwelling small mammals: implications for conservation status and actions

August 24, 2023

Contemporary climate change is modifying the distribution, morphology, phenology, physiology, evolution, and interspecific interactions of species. Effects of climate change are mediated not only through the magnitude of change experienced (exposure) and an animal's sensitivity to such changes, but also through the ability of the population or species to adjust to climatic variability and change genetically, behaviorally, or spatially (via its distribution) (i.e., adaptive capacity; AC). Here, we used an attribute-based framework to systematically evaluate and compare the AC of American pikas (Ochotona princeps) against four other mountain-dwelling small mammals of North America to determine whether pikas are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change, as has been postulated. Unlike previous analyses, we also compared AC across O. princeps lineages and across three taxonomic (and thus, spatial) scales. Our results indicate that pikas have markedly lower adaptive capacity than all compared species except bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea), and that our assessments of species generally align with earlier characterizations of climate-change vulnerability based on life-history characteristics. Although AC did not differ dramatically among pika lineages, some attributes are likely constraining AC differently in various parts of the geographic range. Comparisons across taxonomic levels of pikas illustrated that, although AC levels were comparable in pika lineages versus range-wide, AC was assessed as lower in interior-Great-Basin pikas than across the entire O.p. schisticeps lineage. We conclude that the comparatively lower AC of pikas results in particularly high susceptibility to anthropogenic climate change, corroborating results from numerous other recent investigations of pikas' climate-responsiveness. Adaptive-capacity evaluations appear useful as a consistent way to identify sentinel species or populations and for conservation prioritization.

    Publication Year 2023
    Title Geographic and taxonomic variation in adaptive capacity among mountain-dwelling small mammals: implications for conservation status and actions
    DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2023.109942
    Authors Erik A. Beever, Jennifer L. Wilkening, Peter D. Billman, Lindsey Thurman, Kristina A. Ernest, David H. Wright, Alisha M. Gill, April C. Craighead, Nolan A. Helmstetter, Leona K. Svancara, Meghan J. Camp, Sabuj Bhattacharyya, Jedediah Fitzgerald, Jocelyn M. R. Hirose, Marie L. Westover, Francis D. Gerraty, Kelly B. Klingler, Danielle A. Schmidt, Dylan K. Ryals, Richard N. Brown, Steven L. Clark, Neil Clayton, Gail H. Collins, Kyle A. Cutting, Daniel F. Doak, Clinton W. Epps, Janet E. Foley, Johnnie French, Charles L. Hayes, Zachary A. Mills, Lucas Moyer-Horner, Lyle B. Nichols, Kate B. Orlofsky, Mary M. Peacock, Nicholas C. Penzel, Johnny Peterson, Nathan G. Ramsay, Tom Rickman, Megan M. Robinson, Hillary L. Robison, Karen M. C. Rowe, Kevin C. Rowe, Michael A. Russello, Adam B. Smith, Joseph A. E. Stewart, Will W. Thompson, James H. Thorne, Matthew D. Waterhouse, Shana S. Weber, Kenneth C. Wilson
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Biological Conservation
    Index ID 70247929
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center; Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center