Know your neighbors: The squirrels (and kin) of Neacoxie Wildlife CorridorJanuary 02, 2017
Gearhart naturalist and photographer Neal Maine has been observing and catching—with his camera—members of the Sciuridae family, which includes ground squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, prairie dogs, and other small- and medium-sized rodents, mostly in NCLC-conserved properties in the Neacoxie Wildlife Corridor. Most were photographed in NCLC’s 522-acre Butterfield Fen Habitat Reserve within the Gearhart Fen ecosystem. Here are some of his photos—and a few of his thoughts.
The best way to appreciate these creatures is to think about how their behavior plays out in the coastal landscape. Direct competition would end up with winners and losers, so the best way to avoid this condition is for different species to have distinct niches, or lifestyles that reduce direct competition with other species.
If habitat is the “address” of an organism, niche is its “profession.” Niche is used by ecologists to sum up an animal’s trophic position in food webs: how an organism lives and interacts with the physical environment and with other organisms in its community (Odum and Barrett). The niche is carved out of the habitat by how an organism gathers food and completes its reproductive cycle and by the aggressive nature of the creature and its capacity to compete with other organisms that have similar characteristics and may also be living in the same habitat.
This discussion fits our featured species found here on Oregon’s north coast: species that live and carry out their day-to-day survival activities in common habitat. The term niche does not suggest that the behavior of the squirrel species does not find them competing for some of the same habitat or common foods. It means that at the end of the day, the competition is not lethal, and food gathering, habitat use, and reproduction can still go on at a level that insures the individual species of squirrel will survive into the future.
For instance, while Douglas squirrels are busy taking apart spruce cones, California ground squirrels are eating vegetation found at the ground level and chipmunks are gathering seeds from wild roses.
A note of interest: the Lewis and Clark expedition journals of 1806 noted the presence of both the chickaree and the Townsend’s chipmunk at Fort Clatsop.