The pika and the watershed

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As much as 40% of the world's human population relies on rivers which originate on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) (Xu et al. 2009, Immerzeel et al. 2010). However, the high

As much as 40% of the world's human population relies on rivers which originate on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) (Xu et al. 2009, Immerzeel et al. 2010). However, the high alpine grasslands where these rivers emanate are at a crossroads. Fed by seasonal monsoon rains and glacial runoff, these rivers' frequent flooding contributes to massive losses of life and property downstream (Varis et al. 2012). Additionally, upstream grasslands, which regulate the flow of these rivers, are considered to be deteriorating (Harris 2010). This thesis examines the regional vulnerability of these rivers and highlights the impacts of several policy responses, finding that both climate change and grassland degradation pose significant challenges to Asia's water security. Additionally, I suggest that many of the responses elicited by policy makers to meet these challenges have failed. One of these policies has been the poisoning of a small, endemic, burrowing mammal and keystone species, the plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) (Smith and Foggin 1999). Contrary to their putative classification as a pest (Fan et al. 1999), I show that the plateau pika is instead an ecosystem engineer that actively increases the infiltration rate of water on the QTP with concomitant benefits to both local ecosystems and downstream hydrological processes.