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Friday, August 28, 2015

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MSU research shows squirrels evolve with social cues

By Samantha Radecki          Posted: 04/21/13 10:30pm         

With the help of their mothers, MSU squirrels are fit for campus survival.

According to a press release, a recent study led by researchers from MSU and the University of Guelph in Canada showed how female squirrels can improve their babies’ survival odds by increasing how fast the offspring will develop.

The researchers discovered that squirrel mothers use social cues to prepare their young for the world outside beyond the nest and confirmed that red squirrel mothers will experience increased production levels of stress hormones during pregnancy. This allows the offspring to grow larger and gives them a greater survival chance.

“Natural selection favors faster-growing offspring, and female red squirrels react accordingly to increase their pups’ chances of survival,” said Ben Dantzer, who was formerly associated with MSU’s Department of Zoology. “Surprisingly, squirrels could produce these faster growing offspring even though they didn’t have access to additional food resources.”

Dantzer now is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

The researchers derived part of their study from the 22-year-long Kluane Red Squirrel Project, which studies North American red squirrels in the Yukon Territory in Canada.

The National Science Foundation partly funded the research.

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