America Pika (Ochotona princeps)
Photo: Clint Epps, Crater Lake NP
American pikas are small lagomorphs (rabbit relatives) that live in specialized, rocky habitat in the western United States. Dr. Castillo Vardaro's dissertation research focused on dispersal and connectivity within protected areas such as national parks and wildlife refuges. That research was conducted entirely with non-invasive fecal DNA.
Our current pika research builds upon that dissertation work to look at 1) natural selection along environmental gradients in the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin regions, including temporal changes using DNA from historic museum specimens 2) interrelationships among diet, intestinal parasites, and population genetic health, and 3) the genetic and behavioral consequences of introgression between previously separated genetic lineages within Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Graduate Students Emily Hadjes and Michael Hernandez are spending all of summer 2021 in northeastern Nevada and the Southern Sierras collecting pika fecal pellets and vegetation data!