Researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru have recently identified a new species of Pika named Ochotona sikimaria high up in the Sikkim Himalayas.
The Findings were published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution as a paper titled Genetics, morphology and ecology reveal a cryptic Pika lineage in the Sikkim Himalaya on 15 September 2016.
The team of researchers including Dr Uma Ramakrishnan and her collaborators probed the genetic origins of the little mammal Pika to discover an entirely new lineage, with a unique evolutionary past.
Highlights of the Study
• Researchers used genetic tools in order to understand the origin and evolution of the Pika species commonly found in the Sikkim Himalayas and worked with Pika droppings to obtain DNA samples.
• By comparing DNA sequences from these samples with those of commonly known Pika sequences from across the world, they concluded that there were clear differences.
• Gaining a deeper understanding of the evolutionary history of this species, the researchers chose to compare the Sikkim Pika to its close relatives in China.
• This analysis confirmed the fact that the new species is indeed distinct and not merely a subspecies of the Moupin Pika, as was previously believed.
• Multiple lines of evidence, including genetics, ecology and morphometrics, were used clarify the origins of the Sikkim Pika and to establish that it is indeed a distinct species.
• Pikas are members of the rabbit family and live either high up in the mountains or in cold (temperate) places as they are highly cold-adapted.
• This feature of their biology makes them sensitive to habitat loss from increasing global temperature.
• The majority of Pika species described to date are of Asian origin.
• Pikas are particularly important because they are considered indicators of climate change based on studies in North America.
• Unlike other mammalian species inhabiting such harsh environments, Pikas do not hibernate.
• They prepare for winter by collecting and storing hay piles for their winter food.
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