Daurian pikas are found in the steppes and semi-deserts of Russia, China, and Mongolia. They can be found across the steppes in Altai, Tuva, the Transbaikal and south into Qinghai Province in China. (Hoffmann and Smith, 2005; Smith, et al., 1990)
Daurian pikas have a wide habitat range, found in grasslands, steppes, and semi-deserts. In southeastern Altai they tend to live in depressions, valleys of small rivers, and shrub thickets from the foothills to the summits of mountains (Sokolov et al. 1994). They are also found in tundra habitats, mainly around mountain steppes. Most Daurian pikas are found at high altitudes, over 3000 m. In one study they inhabited altitudes between 400 to 4000 m above sea level. In Tuva they can be found in association with a variety of areas including; grassy-wormwood, cinquefoil-wormwood, grassy-herbage hillocks and river flood plains (Sokolov et al. 1994). Daurian pikas are also found around agricultural crops (Sokolov et al. 1994). To the South of Tuva they are found in association with pea shrub bushes and rivers or streams. (Komonen, et al., 2003; Liao, et al., 2006; Liao, et al., 2007; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Daurian pika burrows can be 30 to 40 cm deep with some reaching a depth of 1.5 m (Sokolov et al. 1994). Tunnels can have many entrances, from 4 to 40, and can cover an area from 4 to 700 square meters. Occasionally they occupy uninhabited burrows of Pallas’s pikas (Ochotona pallasi)(Sokolov et al. 1994) or modify the burrows of rodents. (Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Pikas are characterized by their small body size, short legs, hind legs slightly longer than the front legs, short rounded ears, and a much reduced tail. Pikas have well-developed clavicles and an absence of the pubic symphysis. They have a dental formula of incisors 2/1, canines 0/0, premolars 3/2, and molars 2/3 (or 2/2) for a total of 26 (or 24) teeth. Adult Daurian pikas have a mass of 140 to 170 grams. Skull size exceeds 40 mm. Daurian pikas have palatine and incisor foramina that are fused, a ventrally free vomer, and rounded orbits. Daurian pikas have mostly white vibrissae ranging from 40 to 60 mm long and long thin claws. Body length ranges from 170 to 220 mm (average 180 mm), with their hind feet ranging from 25 to 31 mm (average 29 mm) and ear length from 18 to 24 mm (average 21 mm). Sexual dimorphism is not observed in pikas (Weston, 1982, Smith and Weston, 1990, Deyan et al. 2012). The pelage in summer is yellowish straw-gray to deeper straw-grey with yellowish sides and white bellies. In winter the color becomes lighter and the pelage is longer and more dense. The paws and ears become more furred in the winter. Daurian pikas are also sexually monomorphic. Plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae), which are native to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, are similar ecologically and morphologically. Daurian pikas have a diploid chromosome number of 2N = 50 (Smith et al. 1990). There are currently four subspecies of Daurian pikas: O. dauurica annectens, O. dauurica bedfordi, O. dauurica dauurica and O. dauurica mursavi. (Ge, et al., 2012; Hoffmann and Smith, 2005; Liao, et al., 2006; Liao, et al., 2007; Matsuzaki, et al., 1998; Niu, et al., 2004; Ognev, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994; Wang, et al., 2006)
Daurian pikas are facultatively monogamous. In a captive population a male would mount the female from the back to which the female would then raise her lower end. In captive populations, males emitted long vocalizations which are thought to advertise territories and strengthen the male-female pair bond. (Matsuzaki, et al., 1998; Smith and Ivins, 1984)
Daurian pika young may comprise as much as 93% of the population in the summer. Females comprise 59% of newborn young, but this sex ratio changes with age. Female numbers decrease as a cohort ages (Smith et al., 1990). The breeding season occurs from April through September. Litter size can vary from 1 to 11 with a total of three litters during the breeding season. In a related species, Ochotona princeps, the gestation period was 30 days (Miller, 1974). The young are born naked and altricial. In a captive population, young were able to eat a solid diet within 21 days after birth and were weaned at 4 weeks old. Females reach sexual maturity in the year of their birth and are able to produce a litter between June and July (Sokolov et al., 1994). In a captive population of males, testes had receded into the abdomen by September, suggesting no further breeding. (Jiapeng, 2013; Matsuzaki, et al., 1998; Millar, 1974; Nardrowski, 2006; Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Daurian pika offspring are born without fur and with their eyes closed. After 10 to 13 days, they were fully furred and able to walk and see. Once the young are born they remain in the burrow during the summer with adults where they receive protection and nutrients (Sokolov et al., 1994). In winter, burrows are usually only occupied by the male and female pair (Sokolov et al., 1994). (Matsuzaki, et al., 1998; Smith and Ivins, 1984; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
The expected lifespan of Daurian pikas in the wild is approximately 2.3 years. There is little data on lifespan in captivity, though some were found to live 1 to 2 years. (Loukashkin, 1940; Matsuzaki, et al., 1998; Nardrowski, 2006)
Daurian pikas are mostly diurnal, but activity changes depending on environmental conditions. In spring they are active during the day, in summer they are active in the mornings and evenings. In winter they venture out only on warm days. They avoid hot temperatures, especially during the day, by staying in their burrow (Sokolov et al., 1994). Their burrow system is made up of complex tunnels, including areas for food storage and nesting chambers made of intertwined fibrous grasses. Nests contain layers which increase in dampness and hardness closer to the ground. The top layers are soft and dry because they actively refresh the nesting material. The burrow is usually occupied by a male and female pair and, if present, their offspring. Daurian pikas are social animals and friendly behavior is most often observed in family groups, including grooming and huddling (Smith et al., 1990). Burrowing pikas can have high population densities, but they undergo large fluctuations (Smith et al., 1990). The density of Daurian pikas may vary between 0.1 to over 300 per hectare. This fluctuation can be due to quality of the soil, humidity, vegetation, flooding, and competition with grazing herbivores. Overgrazing by livestock can be detrimental to pika densities. (Kawamichi and Dawanyam, 1997; Komonen, et al., 2003; Ognev, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
The territory of Daurian pikas is made up of the inner (main burrow and specific places) and peripheral territories. The peripheral territory is the foraging area, which overlaps with other Daurian pika family groups. There is little territorial aggression between neighboring pikas. But aggressive behavior has been observed when an unfamiliar animal enters their territory. Boxing episodes between pikas are rare and brief (Smith et al., 1990). (Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Daurian pikas have many vibrissae from 53 to 59 mm in length. They have large tympanic bullae, as they rely heavily on hearing. Before they exit their burrows, they stop to inspect and listen, sometimes raising onto their hind legs. They communicate using vocal signals, including songs, trills, and alarms. Pikas that hear an alarm from another will repeat the loud whistle to warn others. The trill is always used in a social setting, it is heard at short intervals and a pika will usually respond with a trill within one to two minutes of hearing another's trill (Smirnove 1988, Sokolov et al., 1994). A song is three to four times as long as a trill, but it is not often used (Smirnove 1988, Sokolov et al., 1994). The song is usually not repeated by other pikas and comes more often from males than females (Smirnove 1988, Sokolov et al., 1994). Daurian pikas mark their territories via urine and buccal gland secretions. (Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Daurian pikas are herbivores that feed on plants near their burrows. As a result, the species composition of their diet varies across their range. In the spring and the beginning of summer, they eat a large amount of underground plant materials. Species that they have been recorded eating include fringed sagebrush (Artemisia frigid), Carolina lupine (Thermopsis lanceolata), Melissitus ruthenica, Heteropappus altaicus and redstem wormwood (Artemisia scoparia). In the Borzinsk steppes, these pikas use 60 species of plants, 11 species of grasses, 9 species of composites, 5 species of legumes, and 4 species of buttercups and roses. Daurian pikas prepare 10 hay piles on average for winter. Daurian pikas cut grasses at the root and pile it up so that the cut ends point up, which aids in drying hay stacks. Daurian pikas do not hibernate, instead they store food in food chambers or near the entrance to their burrows. Furthermore, the large amount of feces found in storage chambers suggests that they may carry in hay from entrances to consume when food chamber levels are depleted or low. Feces can be either dry hard pellets or soft pellets for caecotrophy. (Kawamichi and Dawanyam, 1997; Komonen, et al., 2003; Loukashkin, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990; Smith, 2008; Sokolov, et al., 1994; Zhong, et al., 2008)
There are many predators of Daurian pikas. In particular, many species of birds of prey hunt Daurian pikas. For example, these pikas comprise 62% of the diet of steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis), 17% of the diet of upland buzzards (Buteo hemilasius), 73% of the diet of eagle owls (Bubo bubo) and 22% of the diet of saker falcons (Falco cherrug). Corsac foxes (Vulpes corsac) and steppe polecats (Mustela evermanni) are also known predators of Daurian pikas (Smith et al., 1990). Pikas attempt to avoid predators by being extremely cautious; they remain near their burrows and are alert to dangers. They have keen hearing and use alarm calls to alert neighbors to threats. Neighboring pikas that hear the call repeat it to warn others in the area. (Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Pika species that live near other pikas often occupy different habitats, possibly to reduce interspecific competition. Daurian pikas play an important role in developing and maintaining biodiversity in their ecosystem. Daurian pikas are a burrowing species. Their digging loosens the soil and their waste and food stores are effective enhancers of floral diversity in the area. Furthermore, plant biomass and cover increase around the burrows as there tends to be more nutrients in the soil, higher temperature soil and more moisture in the soil. Daurian pikas are an important food source for many birds and animals, especially in years where their population is high. They are preyed upon by a variety of different species, however their ecosystem importance is most obvious in winter. Many rodents in the Siberian steppe hibernate during the winter (Smith et al., 1990), while pikas do not. Therefore they become an important source of food for many carnivorous animals. In addition, many invertebrate species take up residence in the hay piles, creating a habitat where certain species of shrew may hunt. Daurian pikas have a variety of internal and external parasites. As many as 31 species of fleas were found on individuals in Tuva and 16 species of fleas on those in Trans-Baikal (Dubinia and Dubinina 1951; Sokolov et al., 1994). Two species, Amphalius runatus and Ctenophyllus hirticrus, were specific to Daurian pikas (Sokolov et al., 1994). Ticks are another form of external parasite that occupy space on the Daurian pikas, including Dermacentor nuttalii, Haemogamasus kitanoi, Hirstoinyssis ochotomae, Laelaps nilaris, L. cleithronomydis, and Eulaelaps cricetuli. Oestromyis dubinini and O. prodigiosa are species of warble flies that have been found under the skin of these pikas. Lastly, intestinal parasites can be found in Daurian pikas including, Ctenotaenia citelli and Schizorchis altaica (Sokolov et al., 1994). (Smith, et al., 1990; Sokolov, et al., 1994)
Pika fur was used by the Soviet Union before World War II for high quality felt. The winter behavior of pikas is especially important for Mongolian herdsmen who often bring their livestock to pika hay piles located near the entrances of their burrows. (Loukashkin, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990)
Daurian pikas are sometimes considered a pest species as they compete with livestock on open rangelands. Control efforts sometimes target Daurian pikas. Livestock activities are also detrimental to Daurian pikas. (Komonen, et al., 2003; Nardrowski, 2006; Smith, et al., 1990)
Daurian pikas are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN. Isolated groups around the northern and southern edges of the Gobi Desert are vulnerable to declines in population numbers (Smith et al., 1990). (Smith, et al., 1990)
Erin Ciwko (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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