Gene expression is implicated in the ability of pikas to occupy Himalayan elevational gradient

PLoS One. 2018 Dec 12;13(12):e0207936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207936. eCollection 2018.


Species are shifting their ranges due to climate change, many moving to cooler and higher locations. However, with elevation increase comes oxygen decline, potentially limiting a species' ability to track its environment depending on what mechanisms it has available to compensate for hypoxic stress. Pikas (Family Ochotonidae), cold-specialist small mammal species, are already undergoing elevational range shifts. We collected RNA samples from one population of Ochotona roylei in the western Himalaya at three sites- 3,600, 4,000, and 5,000 meters-and found no evidence of significant population genetic structure nor positive selection among sites. However, out of over 10,000 expressed transcripts, 26 were significantly upregulated at the 5,000 m site and were significantly enriched for pathways consistent with physiological compensation for limited oxygen. These results suggest that differences in gene expression may play a key role in enabling hypoxia tolerance on this local scale, indicating elevational flexibility that may facilitate successful range shifts in response to climate change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altitude
  • Animals
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Genetics, Population / methods
  • Hypoxia / genetics*
  • India
  • Lagomorpha / genetics*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Tibet


  • Oxygen

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Stanford University; The Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (awarded to KAS;; The National Center for Biological Sciences; the Stanford Professor Gilda H. Loew Fellowship (awarded to KAS); and the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum Research Internship in Science and Engineering (awarded to KAS; The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.