Habitat-specific distribution and abundance of arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii plesius) in southwest Yukon

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Arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii plesius (Osgood, 1900); formerly Spermophilus parryii plesius Osgood, 1900) were studied in three distinct habitat types (boreal forest, low-elevation meadows, and alpine meadows) in the Kluane region of the southwest Yukon Territory, Canada, from 2008 to 2010 to determine if populations in these different habitats provide evidence for habitat-specific distribution and abundance. Abundance in the boreal forest has been shown to be synchronous with the cycle of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) in the region owing to shared predators. We predicted that populations in the boreal forest would be low because of the current low phase in the cycle of snowshoe hares, and that in low-altitude meadows and alpine meadows, ground squirrels would be relatively abundant. Late-summer densities differed significantly between habitat types with 0.38 ± 0.13 squirrel/ha (mean ± 1 SE) in boreal-forest habitat, 1.25 ± 0.22 squirrel/ha in low-altitude-meadow habitat, and 5.7 ± 0.22 squirrels/ha in alpine-meadow habitat. In 2009, populations were extirpated from boreal-forest habitat, while densities in low-elevation meadows and alpine meadows were 1.6 ± 0.34 squirrel/ha and 6.1 ± 0.7 squirrels/ha, respectively. The current absence of squirrels from the boreal forest and the persistence of populations in low-elevation-meadow and alpine-meadow habitat suggest that source–sink dynamics may exist between boreal-forest and meadow habitat types.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z11-041

Publication date: June 2, 2011

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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