Habitat fragmentation is often considered a major threat to biodiversity; however, our understanding of how fragmentation impacts populations is poor. Identifying appropriate models for such studies is difficult. Tree squirrels are dependent on mature forests for food, cover and nests; these are habitats that are being fragmented rapidly and that are easily defined by humans. Squirrels represent excellent models for study of fragmentation. The literature on tree squirrels was reviewed to glean data on density and home-range size in forest fragments. Sufficient data were available on four species (Sciurus carolinensis, S. niger, S. vulgaris, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Density was negatively related to fragment size for S. carolinensis and S. niger and marginally so for T. hudsonicus. Sciurus vulgaris did not exhibit this relationship. Home-range size was analysed for three species of Sciurus and was positively related to forest fragment size for S. carolinensis and S. niger. Again, only S. vulgaris did not to show this relationship. Sciurus vulgaris is rarely found in small forest fragments and is believed to be especially sensitive to fragmentation; other tree squirrels appear to be sensitive to fragmentation in more subtle ways. Home range compaction provides a mechanism by which densities may increase in small fragments. The demographic consequences resultant from the high densities of squirrels found in small woodlots are not known but may explain the forest damage, avian nest predation and reduced diversity often cited to occur in woodland fragments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Nature and Landscape Conservation