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SquirrelMapper, a citizen science project to gather information about the distribution of black vs. grey squirrels that originated in New York, is now active in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin portion of the project was launched this past March by Ben Zuckerberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, with the assistance of Alyse Krueger, an undergraduate researcher in his lab. The duo are now actively seeking the support of citizen scientists to help gather data.

What will the information be used for? A good explanation can be found on the Zuckerberg lab webpage for Krueger, who is leading the effort to publicize the project and will use the data to answer a number of research questions:

My research will center around the melanistic, or black morph, of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Historical accounts show that around 150 years ago, many more eastern gray squirrels were melanistic. At that time, old growth forests were much more common and provided shadowy refuges for melanistic squirrels.

Photo courtesy of SquirrelMapper website.
Photo from SquirrelMapper website.

Some research has suggested that now melanistic squirrels tend to be found only in urban communities, where the shadows from buildings and trees provide them a similar advantage over lighter-colored squirrels. In order to test this hypothesis, we will be studying known populations of melanistic squirrels around Wisconsin and the east coast and comparing the size of each melanistic population relative to the gray morph population, the size of the urban/suburban community, and the land cover types associated with these areas. I am also interested in determining whether or not the eastern gray squirrel is sensitive to forest fragmentation. In southern Wisconsin, our landscape consists mainly of vast agricultural lands interspersed with forest, providing us an ideal location to test for this sensitivity.

Want to participate? Just sign up for SquirrelMapper and start logging your squirrel sightings. Sign up is fast, easy and free: http://squirrelmapper.org/.

It’s also easy to connect with Wisconsin’s SquirrelMapper team via social media. Krueger set up a SquirrelMapper WI Facebook Page and a SquirrelMapper WI Twitter account.

For questions, contact Alyse Krueger at ajkrueger4@wisc.edu.

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