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As climate change brings new pressures to bear on wildlife, species must "move, adapt, acclimate, or die. The authors focus on the American pika Ochotona princeps as a case study in behavioral adaptation. American pikas typically live high on the damp, rocky slopes of North America's western mountains, from the dry peaks of Nevada and New Mexico to the wet coastal mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Yet pikas are homebodies, rarely traveling a kilometer from their rocky abode.
As a consequence, pika populations are often inbred to an unusually high degree. The combination of expansive range and frequently distinct populations makes the pika a good model species for the study of localized, idiosyncratic responses to diverse and changing environmental conditions, Beever said. Behavioral responses, which can be rapid compared to shifts in range, may serve as early warnings of climate impacts on species.
Shifting mating seasons or migrations are common behavioral adaptations to the temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, and other changes encompassed by climate change.
Animals also adjust strategies for feeding, foraging, avoiding predators, and sheltering from inclement weather. Behavioral solutions, however, are limited by physiology, and sometimes incur costly trade-offs with other essential activities. An animal that spends the day in a rock crevice, sheltering from the sun, does not have enough time to forage.
So changes in behavior alone are unlikely to be sufficient to adapt successfully to the predicted changes in climate over the next century. The pika typically inhabits high alpine rock piles at the bases of cliffs or chutes, known as talus. Although it looks a bit like a hamster, the pika is most closely related to rabbits and hares.