In the late 1980’s, Stan Boutin began studying a population of North American red squirrels near Kluane National Park in the southwest Yukon. He maintained this study over the ensuing decades, and it has now grown to include primary investigators from five universities: U. Alberta (Boutin), McGill U. (Murray Humphries), U. Guelph (Andrew McAdam), U. Michigan (Ben Dantzer) and U. Saskatchewan (Lane), as well as collaborators from across North America. The Kluane Red Squirrel Project now represents one of the longest-running and most comprehensive studies of a wild population in North America. The inter-disciplinary and collaborative nature of this project allows us (PIs, collaborators and students) to address topical and fundamental questions with theory and techniques that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries. In my lab, we are studying the life history ecology of red squirrels, with a particular emphasis on their phenologies.
Red squirrels are common throughout North America, with a distribution that roughly parallels the boreal forest. They do not hibernate and, instead, rely on a cache of hoarded conifer cones/seed to fuel winter activity. Each individual (males and females) defend a territory centered on their food cache and this territorial behaviour creates a number of logistical benefits and interesting biology. We are able to follow each individual in fully enumerated and pedigreed populations. We have complete life history information for each individual from birth until death and across tremendous environmental variability. In total, we now have this information for more than 10,000 individuals across 10 generations and 25 years. The primary food source for red squirrels at Kluane is white spruce. The boom and bust pattern of seed production (i.e., masting) in this species causes extreme interannual variability in food availability. The ability to link the biology of red squirrel individuals to their primary resource is truly unique in wildlife research.
Please see the Kluane Red Squirrel Project page for further information. Additional photos of squirrels, Kluane, camp life and field work can be found here.
Graduate Students Involved: Andrea Wishart (Ph.D.)
Lane, J.E., A.G. McAdam, A. Charmantier, M.M. Humphries, D.W. Coltman, Q.E. Fletcher, J.C. Gorrell and S. Boutin. 2015. Post-weaning parental care increases fitness but is not heritable in North American red squirrels. Journal of Evolutionary Biology doi: 0.1111/jeb.12633
Boutin, S. and J.E. Lane. 2014. Climate change and mammals: evolutionary versus plastic responses. Evolutionary Applications 7: 29-41.
Williams, C.T., J.E. Lane, M.M. Humphries, A.G. McAdam and S. Boutin. 2013. Reproductive phenology of a food-hoarding mast-seed consumer: resource- and density dependent benefits of early breeding in red squirrels. Oecologia 174: 777-788.