Striped Ground Squirrel in Morocco – hidden in plain sight

North of the Sahara, the striped ground squirrel is only present in Morocco. Despite being relatively large and diurnal, the species remained poorly known since it was discovered in the country. A new study just published shed more light on this mammal species.

The striped ground squirrel (Euxerus erythropus) is widely distributed in the Sudano-Guinean savannah, between the equator and the transition of the Sahelian zone and the Sahara (see map). An isolated relict population which inhabits the Souss Valley in Morocco, is the only presence of the species north of the Sahara (i.e. in Palearctic region).

The Moroccan population was discovered (too late) during the 1940s (Blanc & Petter 1959), but since then it remained unnoticed with practically no new observations has been published in the following decades.

A new study published in the journal Mammalia (Kryštufek et al. 2018) showed that even carefully conducted surveys by zoologists missed the species. The same is partially true for the great majority of eco-tourists. On the other hand, the Barbary ground squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus) which also occurs in the same region is among the most known mammals both to locals and tourists.

Global range map of the striped ground squirrel (Euxerus erythropus), and habitat suitability map in Morocco
Figure 1. A: Range map of the striped ground squirrel (Euxerus erythropus) and position of the study area (red dot) in Morocco. B: Habitat suitability map is based on the spatial logistic GWR model. Circles indicate sampling sites: white, striped ground squirrel not found; grey, presence of squirrel burrows; green, squirrels observed. Yellow circles denote major cities. The range mapped in Blanc & Petter (1959) is shaded black. Habitat suitability scale (left bottom inset in B) ranges from low suitability (bottom) to high suitability (top) for the target species.

The species was found between an altitude of 45–254 m and on a substrate with coarse texture containing a lot of sand. The species is a habitat generalist and during this study it was found more frequently in suburban and cultivated areas.

The habitat suitability analysis carried out by the authors showed that the highly suitable area covers almost 690 km2, whereas the unsuitable area represents 3619 km2 of the region below an altitude of 350 m (see map B in the figure).

References:

Blanc, G. & Petter, F. 1959. Présence au Maroc de l’Ecureuil terrestre du Sénégal Xerus erythropus. Mammalia 23: 239–241.

Kryštufek, B., Stanciu, C., Ivajnšič, D., Cherkaoui, S. I. & Janžekovič, F. 2018. Facts and misconceptions on the Palaearctic existence of the striped ground squirrel. Mammalia 82: 248–255. doi: 10.1515/mammalia-2017-0060

More about mammals:

Adult striped ground squirrel photographed at Tadouarte Ida Ou Mhand, near Biougra, Morocco (Cătălin Stanciu)
Adult striped ground squirrel photographed at Tadouarte Ida Ou Mhand, near Biougra (Cătălin Stanciu).
Striped ground squirrel in its habitat at Sidi Bibi south of Agadir, Morocco (Cătălin Stanciu).
Striped ground squirrel in its habitat at Sidi Bibi south of Agadir (Cătălin Stanciu).

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