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Keywords:

  • Sciurus vulgaris;
  • red squirrel;
  • habitat use;
  • food availability;
  • intrasexual competition;
  • body condition

Abstract

In non-native conifer plantations characterized by strong spatial and temporal variations in the availability of tree seeds in Spadeadam Forest, northern England, the home range and habitat use of red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris was very flexible. Males tended to have much larger home ranges than females and core-areas of most breeding females seemed mutually exclusive. Adult female red squirrels were found to increase their home range and core-area size in forest patches where food was less abundant. Home-range size was significantly related to home-range quality and the extent of overlap by other females. In contrast with high-quality continuous conifer forests: (1) a considerable proportion of adult males and females at Spadeadam shifted home range, (2) both sexes had much larger home ranges than reported from other habitats in Britain or Belgium. Many ranges were multinuclear, particularly from January onwards, when supplies of seeds become depleted through consumption and seed shed. Squirrels tracked the availability of conifer seeds (lodgepole pine cones throughout the study, Norway spruce cones in spring 1992 and Sitka spruce cones in autumn 1993) and intensively used several non-adjacent activity centres in temporally food-rich patches. Consequently, habitat preference changed markedly with time. The squirrels seemed to maximize nitrogen intake and to avoid the smaller seeds when possible. This resulted in an overall preference for a mixed diet of lodgepole pine and spruce seeds and avoidance of Sitka spruce seeds when Norway spruce seeds were available. These results lend support to the hypothesis of Ostfeld (1985) that when food is sparse and patchily distributed, females should develop intrasexual territoriality, concentrating their activity in food-rich patches, while males should be non-territorial and adapt their space use to the distribution of females.