Pygmy rabbit

The pygmy rabbit looks like it hopped off the pages of a storybook. A tiny gray-brown bunny, it weighs up to a pound.

Larrucea: “So it comfortably fits in your two hands. Yeah, it’s ridiculously cute.”

Wildlife ecologist Eveline Larrucea says pygmy rabbits live in desert areas of the Great Basin, where they eat sagebrush year-round. But as more frequent and severe wildfires sweep across the American West …

Larrucea: “We’re seeing this giant conversion of sagebrush ecosystem into cheatgrass at the lower elevation sites.”

And warmer winters result in less snowpack, which the rabbits tunnel through to hide from predators as they look for sagebrush to eat.

Larrucea studied the rabbit’s distribution in the Great Basin and found that they had disappeared from many lower elevation sites.

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But at higher elevations, changing conditions have allowed pinyon pine and juniper trees to move into sagebrush habitats. The trees provide perches for hawks and other predators.

Larrucea: “So pygmy rabbits are actually being sandwiched between two different processes that are both due to climate change here in the Great Basin.”

And that puts their survival increasingly at risk.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...