Within-season nest relocations by franklin’s ground squirrels (poliocitellus franklinii) (#372)
Understanding movement patterns and habitat use are essential for designing effective research and management programs for any species. Franklin’s ground squirrels are of conservation concern throughout portions of their range, while their basic ecology remains poorly understood. Field research on a Manitoba population of individually-marked, telemetry-collared Franklin’s ground squirrels near Delta Marsh, Manitoba revealed that females relocate their nest and litter to alternative burrows following parturition, likely incurring significant energetic costs and enhanced predation risk with each move. Telemetry data and direct on-site observation revealed that in the context of these moves, females transport their pups one by one, above ground up to four times throughout the course of lactation, sometimes over distances approaching a kilometer. We investigated the role of conspecific nest visitation, flea infestation, and nest habitat type as proximal factors precipitating nest movements. Females treated with insecticide to reduce flea infestation relocated fewer times than females receiving a control (water-only) treatment. Additionally, conspecific nest visits, registered with stationary Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT)-tag readers, increased the likelihood of movement within an observation day. Finally, nest occupancy was not independent of nest habitat type, suggesting habitat associations also play a role in nest selection and relocation. Significant effects of multiple factors suggest that nest movements evolved in response to myriad factors that impact female fitness. These findings offer novel insight into why lactating Franklin’s ground squirrel females undertake what superficially appear to be costly nest movements, enhancing our understanding of this under-studied and potentially vulnerable species.