Causes and consequences of individual variation in territory size in the American red squirrel


  • Todd D. Steury,

  • Dennis L. Murray

T. D. Steury and D. L. Murray, Dept of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1136, USA. Present address for TDS: Dept of Life Sciences, Indiana State Univ., Terre Haute, IN 47809, USA ( ). Present address for DLM: Dept of Biology and Environmental and Resource Studies Program, Trent Univ., Peterborough, ON, Canada K9L 1Z6.


For most territorial species that defend food or other resources, territory size is inversely related to resource density. However, in some food-based territorial species, larger territories are known to contain greater absolute resource availability. For these latter species, both the specific determinants of territory size, and the relationship between territory size and fitness, remain unclear. We predicted that in American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), where larger territories tend to hold increased food resources, survival should be correlated positively with territory size and that both individual (body mass, sex, duration of territory ownership) and habitat-specific (population density) attributes would contribute to variation in territory size. We monitored survival and territory size of 58 squirrels during a two-year period using live-trapping and radio-telemetry. Survival and territory size were correlated positively, with each 0.1 ha decrease in territory size typically resulting in a 16.6% increase in mortality risk; mortality risk for squirrels with the smallest versus largest territories differed by up to 23-fold. Territory size was negatively related to local population density, but not to any attributes of individual squirrels, implying that, in this species, territory size may not be influenced strongly by individual quality. We conclude that while larger territories may confer a survival advantage to squirrels, territory size is unrelated to individual physical attributes, likely because costs associated with the acquisition of a larger or richer territory outweigh potential benefits of increased food access.