first_imgThe grapefruit-sized pika (Ochotona curzoniae) has long been considered a destructive pest. They thrive in the overgrazed grasslands of the Qinghai-Tibertan Plateau and riddle the land with their burrows. These overgrazed soils can’t hold the monsoon rains, leading to floods that endanger downstream cities and farmlands across China and Southeast Asia. In response, the Chinese government has engaged in massive pika eradication campaigns since the 1960s. But that strategy may have backfired, according to a soon-to-be-published study in AMBIO. Researchers measured the rate at which soil absorbed water on grasslands with active pika colonies and in places where pikas had been exterminated for more than 2 years. Even after first flooding the ground to minimize the effects of recent weather, the team found that the soil near pika burrows soaked up water at least two to three times faster than similar soil from pika-free fields. That in turn decreases the chance for overground runoff and potential flooding, the scientists claim. This evidence of the positive role the pikas’ burrows play may help efforts to protect this keystone species.last_img