Posted October 7, 2014 at 1:11 PM by Amanda Frentz
Photo credit to mnn.com
The original article can be found here.
An Imperfect Memory Saves Forests
Rob Swihart, a wildlife ecologist at Purdue University, researched the habits of grey squirrels as they collect nuts and store them for winter food. Because grey squirrels compete with many other animals for the same food source, they tend to bury nuts in many, many secret stashes all over their forest habitat. They can't always get back to spots where they've buried their nuts, either because they forgot where they are or perhaps they've become a meal for another forest animal. That forgotten stash often ends up sprouting into new nut-bearing trees which benefit many animals in the ecosystem.
This is more beneficial to deciduous forests than the habits of red squirrels, which stash their winter food all in one pile. The habit works fine when red squirrels are foraging in evergreen forests and collecting pine cones, the seeds of which can survive fine in these large piles. But when red squirrels are foraging in deciduous forests and storing nuts in these same large piles, the nuts tend to dry out and die. They can't sprout into new trees, which means fewer nut-bearing trees and less diverse and healthy forests.
Even though the fallibility of grey squirrels' memories is beneficial to forests, the fact that they remember as much as they do is astounding. According to research published in Princeton University's journal "Animal Behavior," grey squirrels can remember not only where they buried their caches but also how much is in them. A study showed that squirrels will return first to the caches with the larger amounts of food.
This article of course made me think about our own Couturie Forest and the animals who call it home. Couturie Forest is the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving New Orleans. Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.
If you're in City Park's forest, expect to see countless varieties of trees, fish, and birds along the trails and in the waterways. And of course, squirrels too. The City Park staff and volunteers spend many hours taking care of the forest, weeding, mulching, ripping out invasive species, and more. We plant many trees and appreciate when trees sprout from forgotten nuts from squirrels.
Keep doing what you're doing City Park squirrels!