Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A squeaky rodent?s warning

In years past, hikers in the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains nearly always could rely on hearing the "Eek!" of the tiny pika, a small rodent related to rabbits, in the high-country wildlands.

These days, its call is rare. The tiny, alpine-dwelling pika, about 8 inches long and perhaps weighing no more than 6 ounces, has been retreating to cooler mountain altitudes to survive.

To scientists who have studied the pika's habits, movement to a cooler habitat is a certain indication of global warming.

One ecologist, Erik Beever of the U.S. Geological Survey, says the pika, whose existence here for the past 40,000 years has been documented, has vanished from at least seven of 25 areas in Nevada and Utah in the past century, although natural terrain features and forage that attract the small animal have not changed. Clearly, the onset of warmer weather is the culprit.

As they run out of higher places for escape, University of Washington paleontologist Donald Grayson says, a 1- or 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature would doom the pika's survival. Although a lawsuit has been filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pika as an endangered species, that won't halt greenhouse gas emissions.

The humble pika's changing habits add to indisputable evidence that global warming is measurably changing the atmosphere in which man and animal exist.

The possibility of another species' becoming extinct because of man-induced climate change foretells a possible fate of humankind itself should it be unsuccessful in stopping global warming.

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