Citizen scientists called to play their part in Ireland’s red squirrel revival

Citizen scientists called to play their part in Irelands red

Researchers at NUI Galway are seeking people to submit images of red and gray squirrels they find in urban areas to the National Biodiversity Data Center website.

A team from NUI Galway is leading a survey-based research project that aims to engage the public in citizen science and conservation in the city.

Researchers are asking the public to record sightings of red and gray squirrels in towns, villages and city parks as part of an effort to revive Ireland’s native red squirrel population.

Red squirrels are currently being supplanted by the larger, invasive gray squirrels. Gray squirrels were introduced to Ireland in 1911 and have made the survival of red squirrels increasingly difficult.

Not only do they compete for food and spread disease, but gray squirrels seem to thrive and take refuge in urban areas, recent studies show. However, some studies conducted since 2007 have shown that the red squirrel population is recovering.

NUI Galway researchers are still concerned that reports of gray squirrels thriving in urban areas could hinder red squirrels. They have launched the Urban Squirrel Survey to get the public’s help in tracking the behavior of both types of creatures.

The year-round research is conducted by PhD student Emma Roberts and Dr Colin Lawton, lecturer in wildlife ecology and conservation biology at NUI Galway’s School of Natural Sciences.

Lawton said they would “rely on the help of the public, our citizen scientists, to provide us with information about their local parks and gardens”.

“Previously, surveys have looked for squirrel records across all parts of Ireland, but this year we’re focusing on urban areas, highlighting the increasing importance of these habitats to our wildlife and seeing if they will continue to be a stronghold of the invasive gray squirrel,” he added.

Gray squirrel. Image: Gillian Day

According to Roberts, “With the spread of urbanization, parks and urban green spaces are becoming important habitats for squirrels. By understanding where both species occur in urban areas, we can plan conservation actions to protect our native red squirrel.

“Red squirrels need a forest to live in, so it can be difficult for an urban area to house these animals. By examining their distribution in urban areas across Ireland, we can examine the likelihood of their survival in certain areas and recovery in others.”

The researchers are working with the Heritage Council’s National Biodiversity Data Center. This resource provides an online portal for citizens to capture biodiversity data in Ireland. It has previously been involved in projects for bee conservation and the profiling of Irish natural habitats.

The squirrel research is mainly focused on urban areas in Galway, Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Derry, Limerick and Waterford.

For instructions on recording squirrel sightings for the project, see the National Biodiversity Data Center website.

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