Population fragmentation leads to morpho-functional variation in British red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Population fragmentation leads to morpho-functional variation in British red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris)

30 March 2019

Abstract

It is well-known that population fragmentation and isolation can lead to rapid morphological and functional divergence, with the effect being particularly well-documented in rodents. Here, we investigated whether such a phenomenon could be identified in the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), which was once widespread across the majority of Great Britain, but suffered a severe population decline across the 20th century, leaving a highly fragmented distribution. The aim was to test for morphological and biomechanical variation of the mandible between the remaining British red squirrel populations. Linear and geometric morphometric methods were used to analyse shape in a sample of over 250 squirrel mandibles from across the UK and Germany. Canonical variates analysis identified significant shape differences between most British red squirrel populations, but particularly between squirrels from Formby and those from other populations. Linear measurements showed that Formby red squirrels have a significantly lower mechanical advantage of the temporalis muscle, indicating that they are less efficient at gnawing. We suggest that this difference may be related to past supplemental feeding of Formby squirrels with peanuts, which are less mechanically resistant than food items that occur naturally in the diet of British red squirrels.

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