Seattle City Light-Funded Researchers Publish Scientific Paper on Pikas

American pika. Photographer: Matthew Waterhouse

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia studying pikas with help from a Seattle City Light grant issued under the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project Wildlife Research Program has published a scientific paper with its findings about the biodiversity of the tiny mammals.

Michael Russello, Matthew Waterhouse, Paul Etter and Eric Johnson published “From promise to practice: pairing non-invasive sampling with genomics in conservation” with PeerJ.

Their research identified a connection between gene diversity and elevation among pikas studied in the North Cascades National Park.

Researchers non-invasively collected hair samples from the elusive pikas using hair snares and compared the DNA of the various samples.

Pikas are considered by some to be sentinels of climate change. The study recommended further research to identify underlying mechanisms associated with the pikas ability to disperse across their mountainous habitat.

More information on wildlife researched funded by the City Light Wildlife Research Program can be found at

Seattle City Light Funds Study of the American Pika in North Cascades

Photograph by Matthew Waterhouse

Seattle City Light’s Wildlife Research Grants Program began in 1995 as one of the requirements of the federal license to operate the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.  The main goal of the program is to “facilitate the development of improved methods for the understanding, management and protection of wildlife resources in the North Cascades ecosystem, with an emphasis on the Skagit River Watershed.”

Each year, the program funds a number of qualified projects selected through a competitive application process. Priority is given to projects that address topics of interest to the agencies in the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project Area, the Skagit River Watershed and the North Cascades/ Western Okanagan ecoregions.

One ongoing project in the North Cascades National Park Complex is studying the American pika (Ochotona princeps).  The project is addressing the research question: “How is climate change affecting high elevation mammal populations such as pika?”

The American pika is a very outgoing herbivore that is a tiny relative of rabbits and hares.  These critters can be found at high altitudes in North American mountain ranges.  In order to test the effect climate has on these mammals, this research project will be retrieving DNA samples through hair snares.  Samples will be taken at multiple different location sites at multiple levels of elevation.

This research project is still underway and is expected to be completed within the next year.  Check out the University of British Columbia researchers’ Pika blog at