Red squirrel habitat mapping using remote sensing

Silvia Flaherty, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP. Tel. 0131 650 9172

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), the only squirrel species native to the UK, is now considered endangered, is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is also under legal protection.

The future of red squirrel conservation will depend on the careful selection and management of suitable reserve areas. Several studies have demonstrated the importance of tree species composition and age (related to food availability) on habitat use. However, there exists a critical gap in understanding and quantifying the relationship between squirrel abundance, their habitat use and forest structural factors such as canopy connectivity, tree densities, height heterogeneity.

The aim of this research project is therefore to address this research gap. Methodologically, the aim is to develop remotely-sensed approaches to facilitate data capture on habitat suitability. Ground-based assessment of habitat suitability in large semi-natural Scottish woodlands is prohibitively expensive at national scales. Remote Sensing (RS) enables cost efficient canopy characteristics assessment at such scales.

To achieve these aims, the project objectives are:

– Create a ground-based forest structure and squirrel feeding activity database for Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle.

– Develop relationships between key stand structure variables and squirrel feeding behaviour for Norway spruce (Picea abies); Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

-Generate RS based methodologies for the extraction of key forest structural parameters relating to habitat suitability.

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