Curtin University-led research has shown squirrels have adapted to New York City's human behaviour, allowing them to thrive just as well, if not better, than their fellow squirrels in the woods.
Dr Bill Bateman, Senior Lecturer at Curtin's Department of Environment & Agriculture, led the study that proved eastern grey squirrels were able to modify their behaviour in urban environments and prevent unnecessary responses when humans acted in a predictable manner, such as staying on the footpath.
"As we rapidly increase the spread of urbanisation around the world, urban areas may end up being important places for some wildlife, so it would be good to know what they like about those areas, what allows them to do well and whether humans want them to be there," Dr Bateman said.
"If we do want them there, we need to know how we can help their continued success, and perhaps encourage other animals to share our urban spaces.
"After watching the clear-cut behaviour of squirrels many times in New York, I decided to take these observations further and determine to what extent squirrels modify their behaviour when approached by humans."
Together with Murdoch University's Associate Professor Trish Fleming the research team measured alert distance, flight initiation distance, and distance fled to see if they could discriminate between pedestrians who look directly at them and those that did not, as well as how they reacted when pedestrians left the footpath.
According to the research, only five per cent of squirrels showed signs of being alerted if the human remained on the footpath and did not look at them, while 90 per cent of squirrels moved away, with longer flight distance, when approached by a pedestrian that moved off the footpaths and looked at them.
"This research shows squirrels are able to modulate their behaviour when humans behave in a predictable manner, reducing unnecessary responses and impro
|Contact: Megan Meates|