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GREY SQUIR­RELS ARE BET­TER PROB­LEM-SOLVERS THAN REDS, WHICH MAY HELP EX­PLAIN WHY THE NA­TIVES HAVE GONE EX­TINCT IN MANY PARTS OF THE UK, SAYS PIZZA CHOW.

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Grey squir­rels are bet­ter prob­lem-solvers than reds

Are grey squir­rels clev­erer than reds? We can’t say that. We’ve found that greys are bet­ter at solv­ing prob­lems than reds – as mea­sured by their per­for­mance in food od ex­trac­tion tasks – but prob­lem­solv­ing abil­ity is only one as­pect of cog­ni­tion. We don’t know if greys out­per­form reds in other ar­eas.

What sorts of tasks?

We pre­sented them with two prob­lems – an easy one, in which they had to open a trans­par­ent lid to re­trieve a nut, and a harder one, which in­volved pulling and push­ing levers to get at the food. Reds and greys were equally suc­cess­ful at the easy task, but more of the greys cracked the harder one.

Why do you think this is?

We don’t know whether greys are nat­u­rally bet­ter at solv­ing prob­lems or whether they have had to be­come so in or­der to adapt to the chal­lenges of their adopted range. Per­haps only the best prob­lem-solvers among the in­tro­duced greys were able to make the most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties here.

How has it helped grey squir­rels?

Prob­lem-solv­ing abil­ity cre­ates be­havioural flex­i­bil­ity, which has been shown to be as­so­ci­ated with in­va­sion suc­cess in birds and rep­tiles. But no phe­nom­e­non in ecol­ogy can be sim­ply ex­plained by one sin­gle fac­tor. Other fac­tors like squir­relpox,

which w greys trans­mit to reds, also play a role in their suc­cess.

Are you do­ing more re­search?

We are cur­rently com­par­ing the prob­lem­solv­ing abil­i­ties of UK grey squir­rels with those in their na­tive USA to es­tab­lish whether they are born with th­ese abil­i­ties or whether they have arisen since they were in­tro­duced here. We should have some re­sults very soon.

Grey squir­rels can crack harder tasks.

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