Pika Project

Pikas are small mammals related to rabbits that live in alpine environments. They are extremely sensitive to high temperature, and therefore are not well served by temperature increases related to climate change. To study this effect, Dr. Chris Ray began monitoring pikas at Emerald Lake in the Gallatin Mountains (one of many pika surveys) in 1998. April Craighead and the Craighead Institute later became involved and expanded the project.

Beginning as early as high school, I had the opportunity to assist Chris Ray and April Craighead with three annual pika surveys (2012, 2014, 2016) in a canyon outside of Bozeman, MT. I can't imagine a better introduction to scientific fieldwork, and I will always carry a soft spot for pikas.

Behavioral surveys

The best job ever! I would post myself in view of an assigned haypile and look for the pika to confirm its survival from the previous year. Once I could identify a pika, I would log its activity for 45 minutes.

Vegetation and habitat surveys

I assisted April, who was recreating historic vegetation surveys on the talus slopes. We also conducted a few habitat surveys, in which we analysed the size and distribution of rocks and rock cover to determine its suitability for pikas.

Pika trapping, handling, and sample collection

We set and checked live traps, which requires a lot of care to keep the pikas safe. When we would find a pika in a trap, I assisted Chris to swiftly take samples of blood, mites, fleas, feces, urine, hair, and tissue. We also logged temperature, weight, and location of the trap. We put a pit tag in the scruff of the neck, and tagged its ears with a unique color permutation before release.

Read more about the Pika project at the Craighead Institute's website!