Female squirrels align births to increase survival of young

By Amy Wallace  |  Aug. 24, 2017 at 9:48 AM
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Aug. 24 (UPI) -- A study by the University of Alberta showed that female squirrels align their reproduction to take advantage of food-rich years to ensure pup survival.

A phenomenon known as spruce mast seeding occurs twice in a decade where spruce trees produce huge numbers of spruce cones beyond the normal amount.

"When this happens, there is enough food around to support many more squirrels than at times of low cone production," Anni Hämäläinen, a biologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, said in a press release. "Any babies born on the eve of such abundance will have a much higher chance of surviving the harsh winter ahead, relying on a pantry full of cones."

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, found that female squirrels time their reproduction to times that are more food rich to improve the survival rates of their offspring.

"It is a prime example of natural selection due to variation in the environment," Hämäläinen said. "Female squirrels that can identify a mast year and maximize their breeding efforts accordingly have enduring legacies, as more individuals in the next generation of squirrels will be carrying her genes."

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