Lab Canada

Squirrels squeezed by climate change

Edmonton, AB — Rocky Mountain ground squirrels are hibernate longer due to climate change and this is affecting their survival rates according to a recent study completed at the University of Alberta.

An international research team examined data on a population of ground squirrels living in the foothills of Alberta and found that a trend of late-spring snowfalls has delayed the animals’ emergence from hibernation by 10 days over the last 20 years.

This causes stress to the population as females mate four days after emerging from hibernation, give birth 24 days later, nurse newborns for 28 days. The young are then on their own.

Research shows the food supply is only three to four months long and they have a hibernation period of eight to nine months. The study area was a 200-metre by 400-metre block in a sub-alpine meadow west of Calgary and was set up by U of A biologists in 1992. Jeff Lane an evolutionary ecologist ant the university began his hibernation study five years ago and collaborated with researchers in Scotland and France. “Our data show that over the life of the study, the survival rate of adult females has fallen by 20 per cent, and much of this could be due to late emergence from their burrows brought on by late-spring snowfalls,” said Lane.

The paper was published in the online edition of the journal Nature.