Plastic pikas: Behavioural flexibility in low-elevation pikas (Ochotona princeps)

Behav Processes. 2016 Apr:125:63-71. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.01.009. Epub 2016 Feb 3.


Behaviour is an important mechanism for accommodating rapid environmental changes. Understanding a species' capacity for behavioural plasticity is therefore a key, but understudied, aspect of developing tractable conservation and management plans under climate-change scenarios. Here, we quantified behavioural differences between American pikas (Ochotona princeps) living in an atypical, low-elevation habitat versus those living in a more-typical, alpine habitat. With respect to foraging strategy, low-elevation pikas spent more time consuming vegetation and less time caching food for winter, compared to high-elevation pikas. Low-elevation pikas were also far more likely to be detected in forested microhabitats off the talus than their high-elevation counterparts at midday. Finally, pikas living in the atypical habitat had smaller home range sizes compared to those in typical habitat or any previously published home ranges for this species. Our findings indicate that behavioural plasticity likely allows pikas to accommodate atypical conditions in this low-elevation habitat, and that they may rely on critical habitat factors such as suitable microclimate refugia to behaviourally thermoregulate. Together, these results suggest that behavioural adjustments are one important mechanism by which pikas can persist outside of their previously appreciated dietary and thermal niches.

Keywords: Behavioural plasticity; Caching; Foraging; Home range; Ochotona; Pika; Talus; Thermoregulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Ecosystem*
  • Homing Behavior
  • Lagomorpha / psychology*