You All Fall Down

Balanced on a rock

Orange sneezeweed in your mouth;

You drop in the heat.

A pika will collect piles of wildflowers, laying them out in the sun’s heat to dry them so that they don’t get mouldy when later stored in their den (Photo Credit: Colombia Land Trust).

This is a Haiku, inspired by recent research which has found climate change responsible for the local extinction of the American pika from  California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

The American pika is a small mammal adapted to high altitudes and cold temperatures, and which lives throughout the mountains of western North America. They closely resemble smaller versions of their relative the rabbit and are herbivores that eat a variety of plants including sedges, grasses, and wildflowers, such as orange sneezeweed.

Pikas don’t hibernate but instead rely on their thick coat of fur and active metabolism to keep themselves warm from the winter snow. However, these adaptations make them vulnerable to overheating in the summer, with overly hot summers stopping them from gathering enough food to survive and reproduce. The researchers in this study found that as a result of the global warming effect in California’s northern Sierra Nevada mountains the pikas were now extinct over a 165 square kilometre region in which they had previously habited. This is one of the first accounts of the local extinction (or extirpation) of a species via modern climate change and is sadly likely to foreshadow an era of future such events.

 

An audio version of this poem can be heard here.

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