The use of uterine scars to explore fecundity levels in invasive alien tree squirrels
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Dipartimento di Scienze Teoriche e Applicate, Guido Tosi Research Group, Università degli Studi dell’Insubria
Dipartimento di Scienze Veterinarie e Sanità Pubblica, Università degli Studi di Milano
Dipartimento di Scienze Teoriche e Applicate, Guido Tosi Research Group, Università degli Studi dell’Insubria, Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Publication date: 2015-12-21
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2015;26(2):95-101

In invasion ecology, reliable measures of female fecundity are necessary to infer population growth rate and develop control programs to determine the proportion of animals that should be culled to reduce population size. Here, we present a reliable staining technique of uterine scars to determine individual fecundity in terms of both seasonal and total (annual) number of young born per female. We applied this method to two alien squirrels species (grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis and Pallas’s squirrel, Callosciurus erythraeus) introduced in Northern Italy, obtaining carcasses from control campaigns from 2011 to 2013. We also investigated environmental and phenotypic variables that might affect individual variation in fecundity and compared annual reproductive output between the two species. For grey squirrels (n=44), 25% of examined females produced a single litter and 61% two litters. Females which reproduced in both seasons tended to have larger summer than spring litters (on average 2.61 and 1.94 offspring, respectively) and mean annual fecundity was 3.4 scars/female ranging from 1 to 8 births. There was no effect of year, eye lens weight, body size or body mass on total fecundity. For Pallas’s squirrel (n=31), 58% of females had a spring litter, some of these also produced a summer litter (35%) and a few even a third litter in autumn (10%). Heavier and older females (higher eye lens weight) had more uterine scars than younger animals with lower body mass. Finally, fecundity of the two IAS in Italy was similar or even higher than in the native range and/or in other countries of introduction, suggesting they are well adapted to their new environment and potentially have a high capacity to spread and recover after reduction of population size.

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