Direct vs. Indirect Benefits of Caching by Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)

Authors


Mark D. Spritzer, Miami University, Department of Zoology, Pearson Hall Room 212, Oxford, OH 45056-1400, USA. E-mail: spritzmd@muohio.edu

Abstract

Individuals of many species cache food to gain direct benefits from consuming their own caches, but individuals of a few species also gain indirect benefits by sharing caches with kin. We investigated whether gray squirrels cache primarily to gain direct benefits or if they also gain indirect benefits by sharing caches with kin. If squirrels share caches with kin, then genetically related squirrels should live near one another and cache near one another to facilitate cache sharing. In contrast, if squirrels cache primarily for direct benefits, then they should clump their caches near the center of their ranges to facilitate cache defense. This study was conducted with 140 squirrels in a 10 ha forest. DNA was extracted from blood samples taken from squirrels, and genetic similarity scores from randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) loci were used to measure relatedness. Squirrels were given piles of pecans for caching at six sites and observed from a blind. We recorded the direction squirrels took nuts from piles and at one site determined the location of caches. For male–female comparisons, related squirrels lived significantly closer to one another than unrelated squirrels, but this was not the case for female–female and male–male comparisons. The genetic similarity of neighboring squirrels did not influence the location of caches or the direction that squirrels took nuts from piles. Squirrels clumped their own caches and moved nuts toward their own home range centers. These results suggest that gray squirrels cache primarily to gain direct benefits rather than indirect benefits.

Ancillary