Climate change is forcing many alpine species to higher elevations, including American pikas (Ochotona princeps), small rabbit-relatives that typically inhabit high-elevation mountain ranges of western North America. However, despite dramatic elevational shifts and local extinctions in some parts of their range, these animals persist in several surprising habitats in the Pacific Northwest, including the low-elevation rainforests of the Columbia River Gorge and areas severely burned by wildfire. In this talk, Dr. Johanna Varner will describe some of her research on the distribution and behaviors of pikas living in the Gorge and on Mt. Hood, including how the populations have rebounded after recent wildfires. This research helps to advance our knowledge of the true habitat requirements and climate sensitivity of pikas and may inform their conservation and management.
Biologist Johanna Varner studies mountain mammals called pikas, a potato-sized rabbit relative that lives in alpine rockslides. These adorable animals were the inspiration for Pikachu, but their habitat may be threatened by climate change. Dr. Varner studies how some pikas are able to persist in unusual places like the Columbia River Gorge – research she hopes will inform their conservation. Although she is currently located in Grand Junction, CO, Dr. Varner has been working with pikas in the Gorge for over ten years. Dr. Varner holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from MIT and a PhD from University of Utah. In her spare time, she loves to ski and run on trails with her dogs