Kitchener-Waterloo

Squirrel study looks at wildlife in the city, University of Guelph researcher says

University of Guelph is studying squirrels to find out the effects of urbanization in wildlife. The study will be comparing urban squirrels and non urban squirrels to see the difference in stress and immune physiology.

U of G looks at the difference between urban squirrels and non urban squirrels.

U of G is looking at the effects of urbanisation in wildlife by studying squirrels. (Submitted by Dave Reid)

Squirrels are a common sight in our backyards and in our parks; however, many of us don't question how they adapt to a life in the city.

That's something the University of Guelph plans to find out.

"In particular we are going to be using grey squirrels because they are a great model system for colonizing urban areas," said Amy Newman, professor in the department of integrative biology.

The study hopes to capture and tag at least 200 squirrels by setting up several different trapping areas within Guelph, including on the university's campus and city parks.

This would enable master's student Mason Stothart and his team to further their understanding of the differences in stress and immune physiology between urban squirrels and non urban squirrels.

"We have some understanding of how life in the city can affect wildlife behaviour and demographics but we have little understanding of the physiology process that regulates those differences," Stothart said.

Residents asked to help track squirrels

To help keep track of the squirrels, the Guelph community is being asked to take part in the study. Since each squirrel is being tagged with an individual colour combination, Stothart said the community can use their website or download an app to report if they see a squirrel with coloured tags.

"We're hoping that this way we can keep track of individuals," he said. "We want to capture them four times in the year so if we know where they have last been sighted, that can help us narrow our range."

Long term study

Newman said this is the start to what hopefully will become a long term study. They plan on looking at the pressures that urban and non urban squirrels face during different seasons. She said she hopes this study will create a strong baseline to track squirrels and their young.

"I'd like to do is start monitoring their reproductive success," she said. "We'd follow moms and dads and their pups and see how well they are reproducing in different environments."

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