The pika and the watershed: The impact of small mammal poisoning on the ecohydrology of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
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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.
KeywordsBurrowing mammals Ecohydrology Ecosystem services Plateau pika Qinghai-Tibetan plateau
Funding for this research was provided by the Phoenix Zoo Conservation and Science Grants program, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Asia Seed Fund, and the US NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program (DBCS-0814794). We thank Badingqiuying and Nicholas Whipps for their assistance in providing on-the-ground support. Brigitte Hogan and Zhao Qingling assisted in the initial design of this experiment, and Crystal Palmer drafted the map. We thank Ana Davidson, Ed Grumbine, Sharon Hall, Harriet Smith, Cherie Westbrook, and Jingle Wu for their conscientious and insightful reviews of an earlier draft of this manuscript.
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