With over 278 species, Squirrels (family Sciuridae) are found across diverse habitats ranging from deserts, through tropical and temperate forests, to the arctic tundra. Furthermore, squirrels can be sorted into three distinct ecotypes (ground, tree, and gliding) that invite questions about the adaptive significance of different body shapes for these different niches. Although previous work has examined differences in body mass, tail length, and relative limb lengths between these three groups, no study has tested whether selection is also driving differences in the axial skeleton and the overall body shape of squirrels. The goal of #TeamSquirrel is to test if ecological niches drive the evolution of body shape, the underlying vertebral regions, and correlations between the cranial, axial, and appendicular skeletons across squirrels.
#TeamSquirrel is lead by UW undergraduates Abby Burtner, Annika McFeely, and Hannah Rickman! More results soon!