Population dynamics and responses to management of plateau pikas Ochotona curzoniae.
Plateau pikas Ochotona curzoniae are considered a pest species on the Tibetan Plateau because they compete with livestock for forage and their burrowing could contribute to soil erosion. The effectiveness of pest control programmes in Tibet has not been measured, and it is not known whether changes in livestock management have exacerbated problems with plateau pikas or compromised their control. This study measured the impact of control programmes and livestock management for forage conservation on populations of plateau pikas in alpine meadow in Naqu District, central Tibet, during 2004 and 2005. Current techniques for controlling plateau pikas in spring cause large reductions in abundance, but high density-dependent rates of increase result in no differences between treated and untreated populations by the following autumn. Rates of increase from spring to autumn are not influenced by standing plant biomass or concurrent grazing by yaks Bos grunniens and Tibetan sheep Ovis aries. In autumn there was significantly lower biomass outside fenced areas with year-round livestock grazing compared with inside fenced areas with equivalent or higher numbers of plateau pikas but predominantly winter grazing by livestock. Inside fenced areas, control of plateau pikas in spring produced no detectable effect on standing plant biomass at the end of the following summer compared with uncontrolled populations of plateau pikas. Regardless of their initial density, populations of plateau pikas declined rapidly over winter outside fenced areas where there was very low standing plant biomass in autumn. However, inside fenced areas with higher plant biomass in autumn, low-density populations of plateau pikas declined more slowly than high-density populations. Synthesis and applications. Current control programmes have limited effect because populations of plateau pikas can recover in one breeding season. There was no apparent increase in forage production in areas where plateau pikas were controlled. However, plateau pikas appear to benefit from changes in grazing management, with low-density populations declining less over winter inside fenced areas than elsewhere. It was not evident that control programmes are warranted or that they will improve the livelihoods of Tibetan herders.