Researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England, working with The University of Arizona in the US, have developed a special computer model which in time will pinpoint the biggest threats to the rare Mount Graham Red Squirrel.
Details of the model are published in the academic journal Biological Conservation.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel, isolated for the last 10,000 years in a small area of coniferous forest on a mountain in the Arizona desert, has a unique shape, genetic make-up and behavioural characteristics. It is a recognised subspecies and protected under the United States' Endangered Species Act. The mountain itself is known globally for the Mt. Graham International Observatory.
The British academics are applying expertise developed while working with the threatened UK red squirrel - a completely different species to the Mount Graham variety despite the similar names - in one of its last strongholds in Europe, Kielder Forest on the Scottish border. With around 10,000 red squirrels, Kielder hosts England's largest remaining population.
In Kielder, Newcastle University's Dr Peter Lurz and colleagues used the model to create a conservation strategy for the forest, assisting with planting and felling plans to help maintain a viable red squirrel population. Here, the reds' biggest threat is the introduced grey squirrel, which out-competes them for food and transfers a deadly virus.
In the US, the new computer model, which mimics population dynamics in response to different threats, will help evaluate and refocus existing efforts to save Mount Graham Red Squirrel. Although conservation measures are already in place, concerns about the animal's viability have increased as numbers have more than halved since 1999, dropping from 562 to a recent low of 214.