According to the flying squirrels' habitat model created by Estonian zoologists on the basis of the tiny mammals' nesting preferences and movement routes, the suitable habitat has shrunk to mere two square kilometers, and there could be no more than a few hundred specimens left in Estonia.
"We estimate that there could be a few square kilometers of such habitats left, where the flying squirrel could nest. If we believe that the animals nest close together, we may have maybe a few hundred. However, if we face the reality and take into account that not all of the good nesting sites are actually used and, based on my experience, I would say that this applies to most of them, it would not be surprising to find that we have less than 100 animals left in Estonia," said Jaanus Remm from the University of Tartu. For instance, of the 81 known nesting sites checked in 2014, only 29 were settled.
The flying squirrel population has been shrinking for years. But according to Remm, the species can still be saved from extinction. The studies that Remm and his colleagues have conducted on the habitats and behavior of the flying squirrel, allow to create a large-scale landscape-level conservation plan. "This would set down rules for forest management, taking into account the forest management options and opportunities of landowners. All activities would be planned in a way as to support the population of the flying squirrels and the recovery of their habitats," Remm explained. He added, however, that it will take decades for such measures to produce results. The forests need time to grow - the squirrels generally nest in hundred-year-old high aspen forests.
Other measures could be implemented alongside the aforementioned conservation method. "For example, keeping a captive population, reproduction and also putting up artificial nests." These could help to buy more time for the natural habitats to recover.
Remm talked about the results of his studies and the preservation of the local flying squirrel population at RMK's research seminar on February 12.
Editor: J.-J. Oidermaa, M. Oll