I spent last September and October in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, India. This was my third field season and definitely the most productive. My amazing field assistant, Ania Wrona, and I spent 6 weeks in and around the villages of Kaza and Kibber in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. We trapped and sampled pikas, a small mammal related to rabbits, at three different altitudes (3,600m, 4,000m and 5,000m). We successfully sampled and released 24 individuals. From these samples we are currently sequencing the transcriptome of these individuals in order to see how gene sequence and expression are different across this elevation gradient. Both Ania and I can tell you that breathing at 5000m (16000ft) is anything but easy given that there is only a little more than half the oxygen at this altitude as there is at sea level. The lack of oxygen in this environment stresses organisms in many ways, and only a few species have evolved to live in such an extreme environment. Pikas are one such group of species, and we are hoping this genomic data will help us reveal how it is that they are able to live in such low oxygen conditions.
- Katie Solari