Pika Patrol: Mobile app monitors the iconic American pika

Photo courtesy Deirdre Rosenberg

Colorado Pika Project

With the winter snowpack gone, hikers are once again pouring into Colorado’s high peaks, and this year, some of them will come back with important data on the American pika. 

This is the first summer in which hikers are using Pika Patrol, an innovative new mobile app, to track observations and monitor populations of climate-sensitive American pika. 

This first-of-its-kind app for the at-risk species will be used by the roughly 650 volunteers affiliated with the Colorado Pika Project, but it also opens the door for hikers, residents and visitors to easily record pika observations with their smartphones. Through Pika Patrol, the project expects to expand the area where it is studying this charismatic mountain dweller. 

The Colorado Pika Project is an initiative led by Rocky Mountain Wild and the Denver Zoo that engages volunteers to study the impacts of climate change on the American pika in Colorado.

Pikas, close relatives of rabbits, are small mammals that live at high altitudes in Colorado and across the West. Despite thriving in some of the harshest environments in the state, pikas in some areas may be vulnerable to climate change as temperatures rise and snowpack melts earlier across the intermountain west. 

“Each summer, thousands of hikers see pikas dashing around rocky slopes above the tree line,” said Megan Mueller, conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “With Pika Patrol, there is now a simple way for them to record these pika sightings and share their observations with scientists.”

“Pika Patrol will really empower hikers to help scientists understand how pikas are coping with climate change in our state,” said Dr. Johanna Varner, a biology professor and American pika expert at Colorado Mesa University. “The app makes it really easy for people to submit photos and sound recordings with their observations, which are really powerful data.”

The app was designed to be easy to use. All you need to participate is a mobile device.

“Colorado Pika Project community scientists have been studying pikas at our long-term monitoring site for over a decade, but they had to be trained in a pretty rigorous scientific protocol. Now, all you need to use Pika Patrol is a smartphone,” said Alex Wells, community conservation coordinator at the Denver Zoo. “Even if you’ve never seen a pika before, the app will teach you to identify them by sight, calls, haypiles and scat.”

Pika Patrol is available for free in the Google Play and Apple App stores.