‘I Love’ video series: U. researcher studies pikas with a passion

Johanna Varner developed a passion for American pikas while researching them as a doctoral student at the University of Utah. Johanna Varner developed a passion for American pikas while researching them as a doctoral student at the University of Utah.

A study conducted by Johanna Varner, Ph.D., when she was a doctoral student at the University of Utah, found that American pikas living in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Ore., have adapted to much lower elevations by eating nutrient-poor mosses that cover the boulder fields they live in near sea level. The moss also acts like a “swamp cooler” to keep the warm mammals cool, similar to their native alpine habitats.

American pikas, are part of the lagomorph order, which includes rabbits and hares, although they appear much like a miniature guinea pig with its large belly, stubby limbs and small ears. They are found in Utah’s cooler alpine climates around 9,000 feet, although Varner’s study shows the pika’s ability to adapt to a changing environment.

See her story in the latest video in The Tribune’s “I Love” video series, which features people with a passion. Find the series at ilove.sltrib.com.

Email your suggestion about people we could feature to photo@sltrib.com with the subject line “I Love.”