Recent research on mountain-dwelling species has illustrated changes in species' distributional patterns in response to climate change. Abundance of a species will likely provide an earlier warning indicator of change than will occupancy, yet relationships between abundance and climatic factors have received less attention. We tested whether predictors of counts of American pikas (Ochotona princeps) during surveys from the Great Basin region in 1994-1999 and 2003-2008 differed between the two periods. Additionally, we tested whether various modeled aspects of ecohydrology better predicted relative density than did average annual precipitation, and whether risk of site-wide extirpation predicted subsequent population counts of pikas. We observed several patterns of change in pika abundance at range edges that likely constitute early warnings of distributional shifts. Predictors of pika abundance differed strongly between the survey periods, as did pika extirpation patterns previously reported from this region. Additionally, maximum snowpack and growing-season precipitation resulted in better-supported models than those using average annual precipitation, and constituted two of the top three predictors of pika density in the 2000s surveys (affecting pikas perhaps via vegetation). Unexpectedly, we found that extirpation risk positively predicted subsequent population size. Our results emphasize the need to clarify mechanisms underlying biotic responses to recent climate change at organism-relevant scales, to inform management and conservation strategies for species of concern.
Copyright 2013 by the Ecological Society of America. Erik A. Beever, S. Z. Dobrowski, J. Long, A. R. Mynsberge, and N. B. Piekielek 2013. Understanding relationships among abundance, extirpation, and climate at ecoregional scales. Ecology 94:1563–1571. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/12-2174.