Keystone status of plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae): effect of control on biodiversity of native birds
- Cite this article as:
- Lai, C.H. & Smith, A.T. Biodiversity and Conservation (2003) 12: 1901. doi:10.1023/A:1024161409110
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The plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) of the Qinghai–Xizang (Tibetan) plateau, People's Republic of China, has been considered a pest because it putatively competes with native livestock for forage and contributes to rangeland degradation. As a result the plateau pika has been poisoned across vast areas of the high alpine meadows of the plateau. The plateau pika has also been considered a keystone species for biodiversity on the plateau. As one test of the keystone species hypothesis, we investigated the effects of poisoning plateau pikas on avian species richness and abundance. We conducted standardized censuses of birds on a number of sites across the alpine grassland of Qinghai province on which pikas either had or had not been poisoned. Avian species richness and abundance were higher on non-poisoned sites, in particular for species that nest in pika burrows such as Hume's groundpecker (Pseudopodoces humilis) and six species of snowfinch (Montifringilla spp., Pyrgilauda spp.), and species that prey on pikas (upland buzzard, Buteo hemilasius; black-eared kite, Milvus lineatus). The plateau pika thus appears to be both an allogenic engineer and a keystone species. Poisoning pikas reduces biodiversity of native species on the Qinghai–Xizang plateau, therefore management decisions concerning plateau pikas should reflect caution and careful assessment.