Rodent-pika parasite spillover in Western North America

Patrick Foley, Tara Roth, Janet E Foley, Chris Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Competition during the Cenozoic expansion of the Rodentia may have contributed to ecological niche reduction of pikas, which are now increasingly under threat as their habitat degrades under global climate change, while some rodents expand their ranges and overlap with pikas. Range overlap carries the possibility of disease spillover. Contemporary North American pikas are cold-adapted and relegated primarily to alpine environments where they subsist on relatively low-quality herbaceous diet. Yet their evolutionary ancestors were distributed geographically even into the subtropics. Here we examine historical and contemporary records of fleas on pikas (Ochotona princeps) from sites at different elevations in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. We calculated indices of diversity from each site and spillover fraction, i.e., the proportion of fleas on pikas that have a preference for rodents. Across this range there are four pika specialist flea species, with no more than two of these per site, and 18 characteristically rodent flea species. Diversity is greatest in the Pacific Northwest and lowest in Montana. Rodent flea spillover onto pikas declines with elevation in the Rocky Mountains. These data provide evidence that rodents and pikas interact enough to allow considerable parasite spillover, and which could be exacerbated as pikas are increasingly stressed by climate change at lower elevations some rodent species expand up-elevation in the face of increasing global warming. With global climate change, both biotic and abiotic niche shrinkage demand our attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1251-1257
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Entomology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Climate change
  • Flea
  • Parasite
  • Spillover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • veterinary(all)
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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