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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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ScienceShot: Unlikely Ally Helps Red Squirrel Fight Invader
21 February 2014 11:15 am
For more than a century, invasive gray squirrels have bullied their way across Ireland, outcompeting and drastically reducing the native red squirrel population. But a new study finds that the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris, pictured) has acquired an unlikely ally: its natural predator, the pine marten. The find comes thanks to a 2007 ecological survey, which noted an unexpected decline in the number of North American eastern gray squirrels (S. carolinensis) on the island—and a concomitant rise in the number of pine martens (Martes martes), cat-sized, squirrel-eating carnivores. Researchers collected pine marten feces and hair samples from areas with and without gray squirrels. Finding places where the two species overlapped was so difficult that the researchers used a specially trained scent dog to track down pine marten scat in gray squirrel–populated areas. Where pine martens were plentiful, red squirrels thrived alongside their natural predator, the team will report next month in Biodiversity and Conservation. The feces revealed that not only had pine martens added gray squirrels to their diets, but that they were also feasting on the invasive species eight times more often than on red squirrels. The researchers believe the red squirrels acquired defenses against predation, such as better tree-climbing skills, as they coevolved with the pine marten, giving them a leg up on their non-native competition. (The gray squirrel originally came to Ireland in 1911 when a wedding gift of a dozen squirrels escaped into the wild.) As Ireland’s pine marten population continues to recover thanks to habitat protection and antihunting laws, a red squirrel resurgence may be less of a nutty idea.