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Behavior

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Most pika species vocalize both for predator alarms and territory defense (Smith et al., 1990; Nowak, 1991; Trefry and Hik, 2009). They produce a high-pitched 'eek' or 'kie' that is ventriloquial in character (Diersing, 1984). They have also been demonstrated to eavesdrop on the alarm calls of heterospecifics, such as marmots and ground squirrels (Trefry and Hik, 2009). Ochotonids can also communicate danger by drumming on the ground with their hind feet (Diersing, 1984). Meadow-dwelling, burrowing species produce multiple types of vocalizations, many of which are used in socializing with conspecifics (Smith, 2008). Low chattering and mewing noises have also been reported (Diersing, 1984). Both ecotypes also use scent-marking (Smith, 2008).

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Reese, A. 2012. "Ochotonidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotonidae.html
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Conservation Status

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Today, four ochotonid species (silver pikas, Hoffmann's pikas, Ili pikas, Kozlov's pikas) are classified as endangered or critically endangered due to habitat loss, poisoning, or climate change (Smith, 2008; IUCN, 2011). Additionally, many subspecies are threatened due to low vagility and its effects on stochastic metapopulation dynamics (Smith, 2008). Not enough is known about many species (10% are still considered data deficient by the IUCN) to truly assess their conservation status. Until the systematics of the family is better understood it will be hard to determine the outlook for many populations. Due to their low tolerance for high temperatures and low vagility, ochotonids are considered especially vulnerable to warming so the need for conservation efforts is expected to increase with climate change (Holtcamp, 2010).

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Reese, A. 2012. "Ochotonidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotonidae.html
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Comprehensive Description

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The family Ochotonidae comprises the pikas, including one extant genus Ochotona and 30 currently recognized species (Hoffman and Smith, 2005). There are more than 30 extinct genera that have been identified as far back as the Eocene, one of which, Prolagus, went extinct in the late 18th century (Dawson, 1969; Ge et al., 2012). Today, Ochotonidae represents approximately 1/3 of lagomorph diversity (Smith, 2008). Their range is primarily in Asia although there are two North American species, American pikas and collared pikas (Smith et al., 1990). They range in weight from 70 to 300 g and are usually less than 285 mm in length (Smith, 2008). There is no known sexual dimorphism (Vaughan et al., 2011). The main differences from leporids are their (i) small size, (ii) small, rounded ears, (iii) concealed tails, (iv) lack of supraorbital processes, and (v) 2, rather than 3, upper molars (Smith, 2008). There are two main ecotypes, one of which is associated with rocky habitats and the other with meadow, steppe, forest, and shrub habitats. Each ecotype is associated with specific life history traits as well as behavior. Most species fall within one of these ecotypes, although there are some species which exhibit intermediate characteristics (Smith, 2008).

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Reese, A. 2012. "Ochotonidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotonidae.html
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Benefits

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Some ochotonid species are considered pests in Asian countries, where they are believed to compete with livestock for forage, erode soil, and negatively affect agricultural crops such as apple trees and wheat (Smith et al., 1990). It has been demonstrated that pikas can harm agricultural crops (Smith et al., 1990) but no control studies have been conducted that support other claims. Pika foraging has been implicated in accelerating range deterioration but only in areas that were already overgrazed (Shi, 1983; Zhong, Zhou and Sun, 1985). Millions of hectares have been subject to poisoning in an effort to control pika numbers with mixed results, including extermination of non-target species (Smith et al., 1990).

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Benefits

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Traditionally, pikas were a valuable source of fur throughout Asia and in particular the Soviet Union (Smith et al., 1990). Additionally, some traditional herdsmen selectively graze their livestock in the winter on pika meadows where haypiles are exposed above the snow (Loukashkin, 1940).

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Associations

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In addition to the important ecosystem roles that ochotonids serve as consumers and as prey, they also alter their environments through bioturbative ecosystem engineering. The burrowing of meadow-dwelling pikas improves soil quality and reduces erosion (Smith and Foggin, 1999). The accumulation and decomposition of leftover caches and the feces in burrow systems also helps increase the organic content of soil (Smith et al., 1990). In addition to their abiotic benefits, pika burrows are used by other mammals and birds and their caches are often consumed by other herbivores (Smith et al., 1990). The haypiles of talus-dwelling pikas also improve soil quality upon decomposition, thereby facilitating plant colonization of the talus (Smith et al., 1990).

Ecosystem Impact: soil aeration ; keystone species

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Reese, A. 2012. "Ochotonidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotonidae.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Pikas are generalist herbivores and typically collect caches of vegetation, which they live off of during the winter. They consume leaves and stems of forbs and shrubs as well as seeds and leaves of grasses; sometimes they also consume small amounts of animal matter (Diersing, 1984). Like most leporids, they produce two types of feces: soft caecotroph and hard pellets (Smith, 2008). During the summer, after the breeding season, pikas accumulate large stores of many different plants in their haypiles, which they then store for winter consumption. Their foraging patterns varies throughout the season in accordance with which plants are available, preferred, and/or have the highest nutritional content, selecting for higher caloric, lipid, water, and protein content (Smith and Weston, 1990). The foraging habits of pikas affect plant communities. Pikas alter which plants are collected while foraging as well as how far they go to forage, depending on whether they are being immediately consumed or are being added to a haypile. This variation results in a mosaic of plant community composition (Huntly, Smith and Ivins, 1986). This selective foraging has been demonstrated to stabilize plant community composition and slow the process of succession, as well as reduce the number of seeds in the soil (Huntly, Smith and Ivins, 1986; Khlebnikov and Shtilmark, 1965).

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Reese, A. 2012. "Ochotonidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotonidae.html
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Distribution

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Although the historic range of ochotonids included Asia, Europe, northern Africa, and North America, today ochotonids are found only in Asia and the high mountains of western North America. Their center of diversity is China, where 24 species are found (Smith, 2008). In Asia, pikas are found as far west as Iran, south into India and Myanmar, and into northern Russia. The two Nearctic species are found in the central Alaskan Range, the Canadian Rockies, and the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, and Great Basin in the continental United States (IUCN, 2011).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native )

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Habitat

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Ochotonids are found in two distinct habitats: talus habitat or in meadow, steppe, forest, and shrub habitats. Talus-dwellers inhabit the crevices between rocks on mountain slopes. These species forage in the alpine meadows that abut the rocks or from the vegetation that grows between the rocks. They are found across a wide altitudinal gradient from below 90 to above 6000 m (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). Species that are typically found in talus habitats are alpine pikas, silver pikas, collared pikas, Chinese red pikas, Glover’s pikas, Himalayan pikas, northern pikas, Ili pikas, large-eared pikas, American pikas, Royle’s pikas, and Turkestan red pikas (Smith, 2008).

Non-talus dwelling pikas are found in a variety of vegetated habitats where they forage and produce burrows. The meadows they occupy are also typically at high elevation. The meadow-burrowing pikas are all found in Asia and include Gansu pikas, black-lipped pikas, Daurian pikas, Kozlov’s pikas, Ladak pikas, Muli pikas, Nubra pikas, steppe pikas, Moupin pikas, and Thomas’s pikas (Smith, 2008).

Some species, including Pallas's pikas and Afghan pikas are known to occur in both habitat types and are referred to as intermediate species (Smith, 2008). Although intermediate in habitat, these species exhibit the life-history traits and behavior of meadow-dwelling pikas.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; mountains

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Life Expectancy

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The average mortality of talus-dwelling species is low and many are long lived compared to most small mammals (Smith et al., 1990). American pikas live on average 3 to 4 years but have been known to live up to 7 years (Forsyth et al, 2005). Meadow-dwelling species experience high annual mortality and few individuals live more than two years (Smith, 1988).

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Morphology

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Ochotonids exhibit little physical variation. They are generally small, ranging in body length from 125 to 300 mm and weighing 70 to 300 g (Nowak and Wilson, 1991; Smith, 2008). Unlike leporids, pikas lack a visible tail and have short rounded ears with large, valvular flaps and openings at the level of the skull (Vaughan et al. 2011). The ears are only weakly movable (Diersing, 1984) and their nostrils can be completely closed (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). They have short limbs with the hind limbs barely longer than the forelimbs (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). They have 5 front digits and 4 hind digits all with curved claws (Vaughan et al., 2011). The soles of the feet are covered by long hair but the distal pads are exposed (Diersing, 1984). They are digitigrade while running but plantigrade during slow movement (Vaughan et al., 2011). Ochotonids have 22 thoracolumbar vertebrae and lack a pubic symphysis (Diersing, 1984).

The skull is generally similar to that of leporids. It is flattened, exhibits fenestration, and is constricted between the orbits (Vaughan et al., 2011). The ochotonid tooth formula is 2/1 0/0 3/2 2/3=26. The first incisors are ever-growing and completely enameled, while the second are small, peg-like, and directly behind the first. The cutting edge of the first incisor is v-shaped (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). They have a long post-incisor diastema and hypsodont, rootless cheek teeth. Occlusion is limited to one side at a time, with associated large masseter and pterygoideus muscles allowing for transverse movement while the cheekteeth have transverse ridges and basins (Vaughan et al., 2011). The zygomatic arch is slender and not vertically expanded. The jugal is long and projects more than halfway from the zygomatic root of the squamosal to the external auditory meatus (Diersing, 1984). Unlike leporids, pikas lack a supraorbital process. Their rostrum is short and narrow and the maxilla has a single large fenestra (Vaughan et al., 2011). The auditory bulla, which is fused with the petrosal, are spongiose and porous. The bony auditory meatus is laterally directed and not strongly tubular (Diersing, 1984).

Pikas exhibit no sexual dimorphism (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). Males lack a scrotum and both sexes have a cloaca, which opens on a mobile apex supported by a rod of tail vertebrae (Diersing, 1984; Vaughan et al., 2011). Females have between 4 and 6 mammae, with one pair inguinal and one to two pairs pectoral (Nowak and Wilson, 1991). Ochotonid coats consist of long, dense, fine fur and are usually grayish brown, although they vary inter- and intra-specifically depending on habitat. Some ochotonids go through two molts, with darker fur during the summer and grayer pelage in the winter (Diersing, 1984).

Physiologically, pikas have a high metabolic rate. They also have low thermal conductance and, even at moderately high temperatures, low ability to dissipate heat (MacArthur and Wang, 1973).

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Associations

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Pikas serve as an important food source to both birds and mammals in all of the habitats they occupy. Meadow-dwelling pikas, in particular, can be a preferred food or buffer species throughout the year, but are especially important prey in the winter as they are still active while similarly sized rodents hibernate (Smith et al., 1990). During high-density years, burrowing pikas can be the most important food source for Asian steppe predators, sometimes making up more than 80% of a predator’s diet (Sokolov, 1965). In addition to being prey for small to medium-sized carnivores, pikas are also often consumed by larger carnivores, including wolves and brown bears (Smith et al., 1990).

Known Predators:

  • wolves (Canis lupus)
  • hawks, eagles, and buzzards (Accipitridae)
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • polecats and weasels (Mustela)
  • brown bears (Ursus arctos)
  • American black bears (Ursus americanus)
  • Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Reproduction

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Most talus-dwelling pika species are monogamous or polygynous (Gliwicz, Witczuk, and Pagacz, 2005; Smith, 2008). There are some notable exceptions, including documented cases of polygynandry in collared pikas (Zgurski and Hik, 2012). In contrast, meadow-dwelling pikas exhibit monogamous, polygynous, polyandrous, or polygynandrous mating systems, depending on the sex ratio at the beginning of the breeding season (Smith and Dobson, 2004).

Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

The talus-dwelling species, such as American pikas, exhibit low annual production of offspring (Smith 1988). Typically, talus-dwelling pikas produce only one successfully weaned litter of 1 to 5 young a year. On average, approximately 2 young per mother are successfully weaned per year (Smith, 2008). Juveniles reach sexual maturity as yearlings (Smith et al., 1990). Some talus-dwelling species exhibit absentee maternal care typical of lagomorphs (Whitworth 1984). The gestation period of American pikas, for example, is 30.5 days (Smith, 1988) and their breeding season lasts between late April and the end of July (Markham and Whicker, 1973). In contrast, meadow-dwelling species have much higher potential reproductive output, but it varies depending on environmental conditions. They can produce litters that are twice as large as those of talus-dwellers up to every three weeks during the reproductive season. The reproductive season of O. curzoniae, a meadow-dwelling species, generally lasts from March to late August but can vary between years and sites (Yang et al., 2007). On average, multiple litters are produced each year and most young are successfully weaned (Smith, 2008). Further increasing their reproductive output, juveniles born early in the breeding season will reach sexual maturity and breed during the summer of their birth (Smith et al., 1990).

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual

Some talus-dwelling species exhibit absentee maternal care typical of lagomorphs (Whitworth 1984). Males and females of some meadow-dwelling species participate in affiliative behavior with juveniles as well as mate guarding and defending territories (e.g. Smith and Gao, 1991). Juveniles of meadow-dwelling species also continue to live on the parental territory through at least their first year (Smith, 2008).

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Male); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male); pre-independence; post-independence association with parents; inherits maternal/paternal territory

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Ochotonidae

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A pika (/ˈpkə/ PY-kə; archaically spelled pica) is a small, mountain-dwelling mammal found in Asia and North America. With short limbs, very round body, an even coat of fur, and no external tail, they resemble their close relative, the rabbit, but with short, rounded ears.[3] The large-eared pika of the Himalayas and nearby mountains is found at heights of more than 6,000 m (20,000 ft), among the highest of any mammal.

Pikas prefer rocky slopes and graze on a range of plants, mostly grasses, flowers and young stems. In the autumn they pull hay, soft twigs and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the long, cold winter.[4] The pika is also known as the whistling hare because of its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow.

The name ‘pika’ appears to be derived from the Tungus piika,[5] and the scientific name Ochotona is from the Mongolian word ogutun-a, оготно, which means pika.[6] It is used for any member of the Ochotonidae,[7] a family within the order of lagomorphs which also includes the Leporidae (rabbits and hares). Only one genus, Ochotona,[7] is extant within the family, covering 37 species, though many fossil genera are known. Another species, the Sardinian pika, belonging to the separate genus Prolagus, has become extinct within the last 2000 years owing to human activity.

The two species found in North America are the American pika, found primarily in the mountains of the western United States and far southwestern Canada, and the collared pika of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, western Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Habitat

 src=
Collared pika on Hatcher Pass, Alaska

Pikas are native to cold climates in Asia and North America. Most species live on rocky mountainsides, where numerous crevices are available for their shelter, although some pikas also construct crude burrows. A few burrowing species are native to open steppe land. In the mountains of Eurasia pikas often share their burrows with snowfinches, which build their nests there.[8] Pikas require cold temperatures to live, and can die if exposed to temperatures above 25.5 °C (77.9 °F).[9] Changing temperatures have forced some pika populations to restrict their ranges to even higher elevations.[10]

Characteristics

 src=
Ochotona sp. fossils

Pikas are small mammals, with short limbs and rounded ears. They are about 15 to 23 cm (6 to 9 in) in body length and weigh between 120 and 350 g (4 and 12+12 oz), depending on species. Like rabbits, after eating they initially produce soft green feces, which they eat again to take in further nutrition before producing the final solid fecal pellets. Collared pikas have been known to store dead birds in their burrows for food during winter and eat the feces of other animals.[11]

These animals are herbivores and feed on a wide variety of plant matter, including forbs, grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss and lichens. As with other lagomorphs, pikas have gnawing incisors and no canines, although they have fewer molars than rabbits; they have a dental formula of: 2.0.3.21.0.2.3. Another similarity that pikas share with other lagomorphs is that the bottom of their paws are covered with fur and therefore lack paw pads.[12]

Rock-dwelling pikas have small litters of fewer than five young, whilst the burrowing species tend to give birth to more young and to breed more frequently, possibly owing to a greater availability of resources in their native habitats. The young are born after a gestation period of between 25 and 30 days.[8]

Activity

 src=
Vegetation pile drying on rocks for subsequent storage, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
 src=
American pika with mouthful of dried grass, Sequoia National Park, California

Pikas are active during daylight (diurnal) or twilight hours (crepuscular), with higher-elevation species generally being more active during the daytime. They show their peak activity just before the winter season. Pikas do not hibernate so they generally spend time during the summer collecting and storing food for the winter. Each rock-dwelling pika stores its own ‘haypile’ of dried vegetation, whilst burrowing species often share food stores with their burrow mates. Haying behavior is more prominent at higher elevations. Many of the vocalizations and social behaviors that pikas exhibit are related to haypile defense.

The impact of human activity on the tundra ecosystems where pikas live has been recorded dating back to the 1970s.[13] Rather than hibernate during winter, pikas forage for grasses and other forms of plant matter and stash these findings in protected dens in a process called 'haying' which they sustain themselves with during winter seasons.[14] Sometimes pikas think that humans are predators, so they sometimes respond to humans as they do to other species that may actually be preying on the pikas. Such interactions with humans have been linked to pikas having reduced amounts of foraging time, consequentially limiting the amount of food they can stockpile for winter months.[15] Pikas are unable to withstand surrounding temperatures above 25 °C (77 °F) so they must spend their time in shaded regions and out of direct sunlight when temperatures are high.[15] A link has also been found between temperature increases and lost foraging time, where for every increase of 1°C to the ambient temperature in alpine landscapes home to pikas those pikas lose 3% of their foraging time.[15]

Eurasian pikas commonly live in family groups and share duties of gathering food and keeping watch. Some species are territorial. North American pikas (O. princeps and O. collaris) are asocial, leading solitary lives outside the breeding season.[16]

Dialects

Pikas have distinct calls, which vary in duration. The call can be short and quick, a little longer and more drawn out or long songs. The short calls are an example of geographic variation. The pikas determine the appropriate time to make short calls by listening for cues for sound localization.[17] The calls are used for individual recognition, predator warning signals, territory defense, or as a way to attract the opposite sex.[18] There are also different calls depending on the season. In the spring the songs become more frequent during the breeding season. In late summer the vocalizations become short calls. Through various studies, the acoustic characteristics of the vocalizations can be a useful taxonomic tool.[19]

Lifespan

The average lifespan of pikas in the wild is roughly seven years. A pika's age may be determined by the number of adhesion lines on the periosteal bone on the lower jaw. The lifespan does not differ between the sexes.[20]

Species

The 34 species currently recognized are:

Extinct species

Many fossil forms of Ochotona are described in the literature, from the Miocene epoch to the early Holocene (extinct species) and present (16.4-0 Ma[1]). They lived in Europe, Asia, and North America.Some species listed below are common for Eurasia and North America (O. gromovi, O. tologoica, O. zazhigini, and probably O. whartoni).

Paleontologists have also described multiple forms of pika not referred to specific species (Ochotona indet.) or not certainly identified (O. cf. antiqua, O. cf. cansus, O. cf. daurica, O. cf. eximia, O. cf. gromovi, O. cf. intermedia, O. cf. koslowi, O. cf. lagrelii, O. cf. nihewanica). The statuses of Ochotona (Proochotona) kirgisica and O. spelaeus are uncertain.[1]

The "pusilla" group of pikas is characterized by archaic (plesiomorphic) cheek teeth and small size.[26]

The North American species migrated from Eurasia. They invaded the New World twice:

  • O. spanglei during the latest Miocene or early Pliocene, followed by a roughly three-million-year-long gap in the known North American pikas record[22]
  • O. whartoni (giant pika) and small pikas via the Bering Land Bridge during the earliest Pleistocene[22]

Ochotona cf. whartoni and small pikas of the O. pusilla group are also known from Siberia. The extant, endemic North American species appeared in the Pleistocene. The North American collared pika (O. collaris) and American pika (O. princeps) have been suggested to have descended from the same ancestor as the steppe pika (O. pusilla).[22]

The range of Ochotona was larger in the past, with both extinct and extant species inhabiting Western Europe and Eastern North America, areas that are currently free of pikas. Pleistocene fossils of the extant steppe pika O. pusilla currently native to Asia have been found also in many countries of Europe from the United Kingdom to Russia and from Italy to Poland, and the Asiatic extant northern pika O. hyperborea in one location in the middle Pleistocene United States.[1]

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Pika Ochotona sp. fossil distribution. Extinct pikas and Ochotona indet. are red, steppe pika O. pusilla blue, northern pika O. hyperborea green, other extant pikas black.[1][32][n 3]
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Fossil occurrences of leporids and ochotonids and global environmental change (climate change, C3/C4 plants distribution)[1]

Other genera of ochotonids (currently living only Ochotonidae) include except Ochotona (pika) extinct †Albertona, †Alloptox, †Amphilagus, †Australagomys, †Austrolagomys, †Bellatona, †Bellatonoides, †Bohlinotona, †Cuyamalagus, †Desmatolagus, †Eurolagus, †Gripholagomys, †Gymnesicolagus, †Hesperolagomys, †Heterolagus, †Kenyalagomys, †Lagopsis, †Marcuinomys, †Ochotonoides, †Ochotonoma, †Oklahomalagus, †Oreolagus, †Paludotona, †Piezodus, †Plicalagus, †Pliolagomys, †Prolagus, †Proochotona (syn. Ochotona), †Pseudobellatona, †Ptychoprolagus, †Russellagus, †Sinolagomys and †Titanomys.[1] The earliest one is Desmatolagus (middle Eocene to Miocene, 42.5–14.8 Ma[1]), usually included in the Ochotonidae, sometimes in Leporidae or in neither ochotonid nor leporid stem-lagomorphs.[33]

Ochotonids appeared in Asia between the late Eocene and the early Oligocene, and continued to develop along with increased distribution of C3 grasses in previously forest dominated areas under the "climatic optimum" from the late Oligocene to middle Miocene. They thrived in Eurasia, North America, and even Africa. The peak of their diversity occurred during the period from the early Miocene to middle Miocene, most of them became extinct during the transition from the Miocene to Pliocene, what was accompanied by diversity increase in the leporids. It has been proposed that this switch between ochotonids and larger leporids was caused by expansion of C4 plants (particularly the Poaceae) related to global cooling in the late Miocene, since extant pikas reveal a strong preference for C3 plants (Asteraceae, Rosaceae, and Fabaceae, many of them C3). Replacement of large areas of forests by open grassland first started probably in North America and is called sometimes "nature's green revolution".[1]

Notes

  1. ^ Ochotona spanglei in the Paleobiology Database.[29][pdb 1][pdb 2][pdb 3]
  2. ^ Ochotona whartoni in the Paleobiology Database.[31][pdb 4][pdb 5][pdb 6][pdb 7][pdb 8][pdb 9][pdb 10]
  3. ^ The coordinates of additional fossils not listed in the xls file attached to Ge and all paper[1] were taken from the Paleobiology Database.[32][pdb 11][pdb 12][pdb 13][pdb 14][pdb 15][pdb 16][pdb 17][pdb 18][pdb 19][pdb 20][pdb 6][pdb 7][pdb 21][pdb 22][pdb 5][pdb 23][pdb 24][pdb 25][pdb 26][pdb 27][pdb 28][pdb 29][pdb 30]

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Ochotonidae: Brief Summary

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A pika (/ˈpaɪkə/ PY-kə; archaically spelled pica) is a small, mountain-dwelling mammal found in Asia and North America. With short limbs, very round body, an even coat of fur, and no external tail, they resemble their close relative, the rabbit, but with short, rounded ears. The large-eared pika of the Himalayas and nearby mountains is found at heights of more than 6,000 m (20,000 ft), among the highest of any mammal.

Pikas prefer rocky slopes and graze on a range of plants, mostly grasses, flowers and young stems. In the autumn they pull hay, soft twigs and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the long, cold winter. The pika is also known as the whistling hare because of its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow.

The name ‘pika’ appears to be derived from the Tungus piika, and the scientific name Ochotona is from the Mongolian word ogutun-a, оготно, which means pika. It is used for any member of the Ochotonidae, a family within the order of lagomorphs which also includes the Leporidae (rabbits and hares). Only one genus, Ochotona, is extant within the family, covering 37 species, though many fossil genera are known. Another species, the Sardinian pika, belonging to the separate genus Prolagus, has become extinct within the last 2000 years owing to human activity.

The two species found in North America are the American pika, found primarily in the mountains of the western United States and far southwestern Canada, and the collared pika of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, western Northwest Territories and Alaska.

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