Articles | Volume 13, issue 22
Biogeosciences, 13, 6273–6284, 2016
Biogeosciences, 13, 6273–6284, 2016

Research article 23 Nov 2016

Research article | 23 Nov 2016

The burying and grazing effects of plateau pika on alpine grassland are small: a pilot study in a semiarid basin on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Shuhua Yi1,2, Jianjun Chen1,3, Yu Qin1, and Gaowei Xu1,3 Shuhua Yi et al.
  • 1State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 320 Donggang West Road, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 2School of Geographic Sciences, Nantong University, 999 Tongjing Road, Nantong 226007, China
  • 3University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.19A Yuquan Road, Beijing 100049, China

Abstract. There is considerable controversy about the effects of plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae, hereafter pika) on alpine grassland on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP). On the one hand, pika is considered a keystone species. On the other hand, it is being poisoned. Although significant efforts have been made to study the effects of pika at a quadrat scale ( ∼  m2), our knowledge about its distribution and effects at a larger scale is very limited. In this study, we investigated the direct effects, i.e., burying and grazing, of pika by upscaling field sampling at a quadrat scale to a plot scale ( ∼  1000 m2) by aerial photographing. Altogether 168 plots were set on four different types of alpine grassland in a semiarid basin on the QTP. Results showed that (1) the effects of pika pile burying on the reduction of vegetation cover, biomass, soil carbon, and nitrogen were less than 10 %, which was much smaller than the effects of bald patches; and (2) pika consumed 8–21 % of annual net primary production of grassland. We concluded that the direct burying and grazing effects of pika on alpine grassland were minor in this region. The quadcopter is an efficient and economic tool for long-term repeated monitoring over large regions for further understanding the role of pika.

Short summary
Plateau pika is common on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP). Since pika dig burrows and graze on grassland to compete with yaks and sheep, they are believed to be a pest. They have been killed by humans since the 1950s. However, there are no serious studies that quantitatively evaluate the grazing and excavating effects of pika on grassland. With the advancement of UAV technology, we did a pilot study to evaluate the grazing and burying effects of pika.
Final-revised paper