Student Receives Scholarship for Ongoing Squirrel Research

Faith James ’21 is looking at patterns of urban squirrels.

Faith James ’21, a biology and environmental and sustainability studies major, has received a Beta Beta Beta Research Foundation research grant of $500 for squirrel research. After the work is completed, she’ll be presenting her research at a regional district convention in the spring or a national biennial convention in June.

Beta Beta Beta, through its Research Scholarship Foundation, supports selected research activities by undergraduates who are members of TriBeta.

“Faith is the quintessential Concordia student,” says Dr. Joseph Whittaker, associate professor of biology. “She actively seeks out opportunities and is actively participating, effectively, in as many academic and extracurricular activities. She is balancing classes, being a teaching assistant, and doing research.”

James explained the goal of the project is to measure the effects of human expansion on species that have adapted to urban niches. Previous research has found that urban squirrels tend to avoid paved areas and mowed grass, preferring the insides of buildings and large trees. Research done at Concordia found that if both red and gray squirrels are present on campus, red squirrels select coniferous trees while gray select deciduous, but if the red squirrel population drops, gray squirrels will move into coniferous.

“Dr. Whittaker, other student colleagues, and I collar, track, and observe red and grey squirrels (and hopefully flying squirrels too) on campus in order to determine habitat/resource partitioning and potential cross-species competition. “It’s an ongoing project that many students have contributed to and I’m so excited to help carry the torch,” James says. “We've seen fluctuations of both species populations on campus over recent years, which is pretty cool. We have seen a trend decrease in red squirrels’ results, suggesting that they’re being outcompeted by gray squirrels, but these findings aren’t statistically significant (which just means we need to continue monitoring populations for a longer time period).”

Whittaker notes that it’s an exceptionally busy year for James, who has also been selected to receive a Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow (CLfT) Professional Development Scholarship and will be attending the workshop in January. She is also one of seven Concordia students who received a research scholarship from Sigma Zeta. Concordia is hosting the National Sigma Zeta meeting in March.

Photo: Faith James ’21 working with students from the MaaSae Lutheran Girls Secondary School in Tanzania this past May.