The pika and the watershed: The impact of small mammal poisoning on the ecohydrology of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Maxwell C. Wilson, Andrew T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

51 Scopus citations

Abstract

With approximately 20 % of the world’s population living in its downstream watersheds, the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) is considered “Asia’s Water Tower.” However, grasslands of the QTP, where most of Asia’s great rivers originate, are becoming increasingly degraded, which leads to elevated population densities of a native small mammal, the plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae). As a result pikas have been characterized as a pest leading to wide-spread poisoning campaigns in an attempt to restore grassland quality. A contrary view is that pikas are a keystone species for biodiversity and that their burrowing activity provides a critical ecosystem service by increasing the infiltration rate of water, hence reducing overland flow. We demonstrate that poisoning plateau pikas significantly reduces infiltration rate of water across the QTP creating the potential for watershed-level impacts. Our results demonstrate the importance of burrowing mammals as ecosystem engineers, particularly with regard to their influence on hydrological functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-22
Number of pages7
JournalAmbio
Volume44
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Burrowing mammals
  • Ecohydrology
  • Ecosystem services
  • Plateau pika
  • Qinghai-Tibetan plateau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology

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