The Front Range Pika Project - Emerging Science (Part 2)

Hundreds of projects all over the world use the CitSci.org platform to build and grow their citizen science projects. Citizen science is the process of engaging the public in science research. Citizen science projects most commonly form around scientific questions that cannot be answered by scientists alone.

In our Project Spotlight series, you’ll meet the people behind the projects and hear about their citizen science successes and challenges. We hope you’ll take away new ideas you can try with your citizen science projects too!

In Part I of this story, we learned that American pikas are disappearing from historically occupied habitats in parts of their range. The Front Range Pika Project formed from a need to better understand what was happening with these icons of the west.

In Part II, we’ll explore the science emerging as a direct result of the key work citizen scientists are doing with the Front Range Pika Project.

Photo credits: Volunteer Training in the San Juan Mountains, FRPP; Pika with hay, David Hannigan; Chris Ray, pika researcher at University of Colorado Boulder, Laura Buchholz; FRPP Logo.

Q: Megan, what’s the most interesting science that has come from the Front Range Pika Project so far?

Pika with hayAt our long-term monitoring sites along the Front Range of Colorado, unlike areas in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada Mountains, we haven’t observed pika losses from historically occupied sites due to climate change. So far, pikas are doing okay, despite climate change. This might be because the Southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado are higher in elevation and have more continuous pika habitat than some of the mountain ranges where pikas have been lost.

However, researchers are concerned that, as temperatures continue to warm and snowpack melts earlier in the year, we may reach a threshold where we start to see population losses in this region. Recent national park research and modeling of predicted impacts of climate change on pikas suggest pikas could be extirpated (lost) from Rocky Mountain National Park by 2100. So, continued monitoring is really important.  


Q: Who is using the FRPP data?

A national team of pika researchers is currently using 1,310 citizen-generated observations from the Front Range Pika Project and several other pika citizen science projects across the West, along with observations from universities and agencies, in a range-wide analysis to look at how climate affects pikas. We’re anticipating publication of this research in 2018.  


Q: FRPP has worked with other pika research projects around the country as well - tell us a little bit about how you work together to advance pika research.


Chris Ray, pika scientist at the University of Colorado, BoulderThere are five active citizen science projects across the West researching pikas and climate change, including the Front Range Pika Project. Four additional projects have collected data in the past but are no longer active, mostly due to funding constraints.

We work together as part of a citizen science working group of the North American Pika Consortium to share best practices, use consistent research methods (to the extent possible), and share citizen science data with researchers. We also regularly reach out to researchers to learn about any emerging research needs and contribute data to specific graduate student and university research projects in addition to working to answer our primary research questions. The Front Range Pika Project has been used as a model in developing some of these other citizen science projects.  

Other organizations that have been or are currently part of the North American Pika Consortium include: Cascades Pika Watch, Craighead Institute, Glacier National Park, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, Mountain Studies Institute, North Cascades BioBlitz, Seventh Generation Institute and Uintas Pika Watch.


Q: Megan, rumor has it that you’re taking a sabbatical to work on the pika project, even though it’s your day job! You must really believe in the work you’re doing. Can you share with us some of what you hope to accomplish during your sabbatical?


I grew up in Colorado in the mountains, and seeing and hearing pikas was always part of the experience of hiking in the mountains for me. I’ve become increasingly fascinated by pika ecology through my work with pika researchers involved in the Front Range Pika Project and I’m very concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on pikas. I can’t imagine Colorado’s mountains without them.

On my sabbatical, I’m building partnerships to expand our citizen science research on pikas from the Front Range to a statewide effort. Colorado Parks and Wildlife may have new funding limitations that reduce how frequently they can conduct statewide surveys for pikas at historically occupied sites, so a statewide effort is needed. I’m also working with an advisory committee of researchers to develop new research questions. We want to learn more about the climate variables that may influence pika persistence in the region and identify and protect areas that may be climate refugia for pikas.

A number of our long-term volunteers have worked with me and Denver Zoo staff in the field to test new methods. We’ve trained volunteers and students at new partner organizations to begin collecting data in other parts of the state this year. I’m enjoying expanding our effort and getting to spend more time with pika researchers, our incredible volunteers, new partner organizations, and pikas! It’s also great to get away from my desk and spend time hiking in Colorado’s beautiful high country.  


Q: How can people get involved?


Front Range Pika Project LogoThe next opportunity for new volunteers to join the project will be for the 2018 field season (which goes from late July/early August through September of 2018). To volunteer, e-mail frpp@rockymountainwild.org or frpp@denverzoo.org and we will put you on the list of people who will be invited to sign up for our 2018 classroom and field trainings, which will take place in late July or early August of 2018. You can also learn more about the project at www.pikapartners.org and join our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FrontRangePikaProject/

Thanks for talking with us Megan! We look forward to hearing more about how pikas respond to changing climates in the coming years and keeping tabs on the Front Range Pike Project as it grows.


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