How Squirrels Adapt to Changes in Their Environment
Adaptation and variation in behavior: how squirrels adapt to changes in their environment are topics of interest. Changing conditions and human habituation affect their behavior, thereby affecting their sociality and behavior. In addition to examining how human habituation affects their behavior, future studies could isolate the influence of canopy coverage and human habituation. This way, we could understand whether human habituation can affect the behavior of squirrels.
Variation in behavior
One reason for this variation may be related to the number of humans in a squirrel’s home range. Compared with other types of squirrels, urbanized squirrels are less wary of humans and are bolder than those in the more natural surroundings. In addition, humans in urban areas may be less threatening to squirrels, leading them to be more aggressive towards people. As a result, this type of behavior may be a good indicator of the extent to which anthropogenic actions affect the environment.
To study the effects of FCM on squirrel behavior, we sequenced the squirrel’s genome with an Illumina HiSeq 2500 platform. The sequence was processed using Genewiz’s protocol. We performed read mapping, variant calling, and variant annotation using SnpEff74, a software tool for predicting the effects of gene changes. We used Ensembl and NCBI gene annotations to build a custom database to identify genetic variants. We also lifted these data into the UCSC Table Browser to identify regions that were conserved in vertebrates.
Adaptation to changing conditions
Several studies suggest that the adaptation of squirrels to changing conditions can be attributed to plastic responses to changes in the environment. These changes are mostly due to temperature increases and earlier start of food supply. If these changes were due to genetic changes, strong selection would be unable to detect them. This has led to the question: “what can humans do to improve the conditions of the species?”
The study’s authors found that the likelihood of new species emerging in mountainous areas increases during warm cycles. In the highlands, different populations may be isolated during long periods of warming and become separate species. Other factors, however, can influence squirrels’ response to climate change. All species evolved as arboreal creatures, but some lineages adapted to terrestrial habitats. These changes can have profound consequences for the diversity of squirrel species.
Effects of urbanization on social behavior
The study also tested the hypothesis that humans are reducing squirrels’ fear of humans, so they become more habituated to them. This hypothesis suggests that urbanized areas have increased human activity and consequently decreased squirrels’ anti-predator behavior. However, future research should consider how urbanization affects squirrels’ social behavior and whether it can lead to an increase in their aggression. There is a strong correlation between urbanization and squirrel aggression.
The effects of urbanization on squirrels were measured in 43 cities across North America. The proportion of melanic and gray color morphs was measured for each city and accounted for 2% of observations. Urbanization was measured using standardized impervious cover and the regression line represents the predicted effect of urbanization on squirrel melanism. Regression lines were also calculated for effects of winter temperature and city size. Those cities with winter temperatures above or below the median were shaded.
Effects of climate change on behavior
Some studies have examined the effects of climate change on squirrel behavior. For instance, a March 2012 heatwave was deemed extreme by biological and climatological standards. Female Richardson’s ground squirrels emerged from their hibernacula 13 days earlier than usual, while males emerged three days later. Although this heatwave had no effect on male Richardson’s ground squirrels’ behavior, it may have altered female emergence timing.
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that red squirrels in the Yukon region were breeding earlier. The earlier breeding season may signal a shift in their genetic make-up and behavior. On average, breeding seasons for red squirrels have advanced by six days per generation over the past decade. Although scientists are still uncertain how climate change will affect other species, it does suggest a major shift in the animal’s behavior.
Up until answer to question 15
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.