Which Of These Animals Plays The Most Significant Role In The Seeding Of North American Forests?
Answer: Gray Squirrels
There’s a long standing belief that squirrels carefully hoard nuts and seeds for the winter and recall, with some sort of exquisitely fine-tuned for-the-task memory exactly where all those thousands of nuts and seeds are buried. Let’s dispel the notion right now that squirrels have any idea where most of their food is stored at all.
In fact, the Eastern gray squirrel, found natively all throughout the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada, and within ranges where it has been introduced along the west coasts of both countries, is the most prolific and important forest regenerator on the continent.
Gray squirrels spend almost all of their adult lives hunting for food and burying the food they don’t immediately need. Unlike other squirrel species, like the smaller red squirrels, gray squirrels don’t hoard their collection of nuts and seeds in central locations, but instead furiously cache the food in hundreds of locations as they forage.
The gray squirrels then largely forget where they hid their food, finding it, in most cases, only if they are near an old site where they (or another squirrel) stashed food and they sniff it out. As a result, untold millions of nuts and seeds end up buried across North America every year, with many of those nuts and seeds germinating into saplings.
Because of the gray squirrels’ focused and deliberate efforts that result in nuts and seeds being buried all across their territory, they contribute more to the growth of forests than any other animal—even outdoing mother nature herself since gravity alone can’t compete with the distance and care the gray squirrels invest in burying the nuts and seeds.
Image courtesy of BirdPhotos.