Why counting Central Park's squirrels isn't nuts

Popular Science | 10/18/2018 | Staff
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Though squirrels feel like timeless, omnipresent inhabitants of our urban greenspaces, the Eastern gray squirrel is actually a tiny transplant. Planners and park rangers only introduced the bushy-tailed critter to the urban jungle in the 1870s. Previously, the creatures were confined to woodlands, where they were fair game for hunters. When one did wander into the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan in 1856, cops had to break up the resulting crowd. Set free in New York’s green spaces and Philadelphia’s colonial squares, however, they quickly proliferated. Squirrels have served as a much-needed source of entertainment ever since.

Still, no one knows how many squirrels actually populate any given park. That’s largely to do with resources. Getting an accurate count of any species is difficult, especially when they’re small. In New York, park department volunteers conduct a regular tree census to map, classify, and count every arboreal citizen in all five boroughs. (Last tally: 678,604 specimens of 422 species.) But trees are recognized for their economic and environmental value; they reduce wastewater runoff, offer shade, and fix oxygen for human lungs. Squirrels, by contrast, appear merely cute.

People - Jamie - Allen - Writer - Living

Some people probe deeper, however. Jamie Allen, a writer living in Georgia, wanted to know whether squirrels were abundant enough to leading an uprising against humankind—in a fictional context, of course. It’s often said there are a 100 rats for every human in New York City, how many squirrels were there compared to people in Atlanta? In 2012, he enlisted friends and researchers at nearby Emory University in what may be the world’s first—but was certainly not thew world’s last—squirrel census, in Atlanta’s Inman Park.

It revealed that the Inman squirrel population was 861—sizable, though still outnumbered by humans. A follow-up in 2015 charted the community’s substantial growth, rising to 928 squirrels in just three years....
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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