Male squirrels live longer, reproduce more if they leave home: U of A study
The study looked at red squirrels in Yukon. Courtesy: Jessica Haines
EDMONTON -- New research has revealed that when it comes to squirrels, it’s best for males to move away from home.
The study, conducted by University of Alberta ecologists, used 30 years of data on a population of North American red squirrels in Yukon.
It examined how the number of offspring and total lifespan differed between squirrels who lived in the same area in which they were born and those who were newcomers to the area.
The results showed that sex played a major role.
“Males benefit from moving away, whereas females do not,” said April Martinig, lead author on the study. “We also found that the decision to move away or stay at home has an impact on offspring.”
Moving away also meant male squirrels don’t have to compete with their siblings for mates or food.
For female squirrels leaving home isn’t as welcoming—they lose out on the support of nearby family, something that male squirrels don’t receive.
“Squirrels live in a world where there are only so many empty apartments to live in,” said Martinig.
“Sometimes one sibling is allowed to stay at home, so everyone else must go. If there are no vacancies nearby, squirrels then have no choice but to move further away. This is what females face, losing the benefits of having family nearby.”
The study also may shed light on how climate change will impact the movement of squirrels.
“Movement is a crucial component of species persistence,” said Martinig. “Understanding how and why certain individuals move is key to protecting populations as climate change impacts their distribution on the landscape.”
The study was published on Friday.