New scientific research has revealed that golden-mantled ground squirrels demonstrate individual differences across four personality traits: boldness, aggressiveness, activity level and sociability.
Scientists drew on datasets collected from more than 30-years-worth of golden-mantled ground squirrel studies conducted at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado.
Researchers also designed several new experiments to observe and measure the behavioral traits of individual squirrels. For example, scientists observed squirrels behavior in novel environs and in front of a mirror. Researchers also observed how wild squirrels reacted to the presence of an encroaching human, as well as how they behaved while caught briefly in a simple trap. These tests allowed scientists to identify bolder, more aggressive squirrels.
The findings showed bolder squirrels were more active and moved faster. They also had greater access to perches like rock ledges, which confer an advantage by allowing the small rodents to watch for predators–but their risky behavior may also make them vulnerable to predation or accidents.
Though golden-mantled ground squirrels are asocial, researchers found some individuals are more social than others. They also found evidence that sociability offers an advantage.
Why should we care if squirrels (or any animals, for that matter) have distinct personality types?
“Researchers say that understanding how personality influences an animal’s use of space and resources could ultimately aid conservation planning. An understanding of animal personalities could also help ecologists more precisely model population dynamics, according to researchers. Bolder, more aggressive squirrels, for example, may be willing to defend larger swaths of territory or venture farther from home to find scarce resources. Conversely, a larger appetite for risky behavior may leave bolder squirrels more vulnerable to predation.”
“Accounting for personality in wildlife management may be especially important when predicting wildlife responses to new conditions, such as changes or destruction of habitat due to human activity.”
-Jaclyn Aliperti, doctoral candidate and lead researcher, Ecology Department, University of California, Davis
Journal Reference: Jaclyn R.Aliperti, Brittany E.Davis, Nann A.Fangue, Anne E.Todgham, Dirk H.Van Vuren, Bridging animal personality with space use and resource use in a free-ranging population of an asocial ground squirrel, Animal Behaviour Journal, September 10, 2021, MS. number: A20-00841R. overview https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2021.07.019