Forest or meadow: The consequences of habitat for the condition of female arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii plesius)

Jeffery R. Werner, Charles J. Krebs, Scott A. Donker, Michael J. Sheriff

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7 Scopus citations


Body condition of animals influences the likelihood of surviving harsh environmental conditions, successfully reproducing, and resisting disease. The sum of these individual components of fitness, in turn, have consequences for the growth and persistence of wildlife populations. Here we compared the body mass and condition of adult female arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii plesius (Osgood, 1900)), an obligate hibernator, in source and sink habitats. We tested the hypothesis that adult females would be in poorer condition in the boreal forest than in adjacent meadows. We found that, during spring, postpartum females in forests weighed less (405 ± 7 vs. 437 ± 11 g; mean ± SE) and were in poorer condition (mean (±SE) residual of mass over structural size = −11.0 ± 10.2 vs. 20.5 ± 6.1 g) compared with females in meadow-source habitat. However, by the onset of entrance into hibernation in August, forest squirrels had reached parity with meadow squirrels and no difference was found in mass (519 ± 13 vs. 520 ± 15 g; mean ± SE) or condition (residual index = −0.01 ± 0.01 vs. 0.03 ± 0.01; mean ± SE). We suggest that for squirrels in formerly occupied boreal forests, (i) poor spring body condition decreased reproductive success and (ii) achieving compensatory growth, via increased foraging, comes at the costs of higher predation risk. These costs likely contributed to the recent local extinction of arctic ground squirrels in boreal forest habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-797
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian journal of zoology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jul 23 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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