Main content area

A test of non‐kin social foraging in the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans)

Murrant, Meghan N., Bowman, Jeff, Wilson, Paul J.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 2014 v.113 no.4 pp. 1126-1135
Glaucomys volans, evolution, flight, forage, foraging, home range, nesting, nests, social behavior, squirrels, summer, thermoregulation, transponders, winter
It can be challenging to understand the evolution of sociality, particularly the occurrence of co‐operation by non‐kin. Southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) are an interesting example of non‐kin co‐operation because of the mutual benefits obtained by social thermoregulation during winter. Because group survival confers benefits to the entire group, flying squirrels may also follow an aggregation economy, whereby co‐operative foraging during winter is advantageous. However, the extent of such social foraging in flying squirrels is unknown. We tested for social foraging of southern flying squirrels, and also for relatedness among foraging groups. To determine the structure of foraging groups, we set up and remotely monitored feeding stations and nest cavities. All squirrels at the study site were tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and nests and feeding stations were monitored with automated PIT‐tag recorders for a 24‐month period. Squirrels were found most often foraging alone. Squirrels that were recorded foraging together comprised unrelated individuals that were also found to share nest cavities. Squirrels were also recorded travelling farther distances between nest cavity and feeding station in the winter season than in the summer season, suggesting that, during winter, squirrels trade‐off proximity to food caches for membership in a nest group. Our data suggest that squirrels forage and cache alone in their summer home range and make solitary returns to this summer range to collect their cache during the winter months, despite exhibiting social winter nesting.