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Grant boost for squirrel study

Posted on 3 September 2020

A researcher at York, whose work includes studies of the evolution of mammalian skulls, has been awarded a £65,000 grant to study the mechanics of feeding in red and grey squirrels.

In his latest project, Dr Phil Cox will combine engineering techniques and skull anatomy to study the way squirrels eat different types of food - such as acorns, beechnuts and conifer cones.

His work - one of eight UK research projects to receive funding from the APEX award scheme - aims to identify the best type of food to support the UK’s declining population of red squirrels.

Conservation

Dr Cox, from the Department of Archaeology and the Hull York Medical School, said the work could help conservation scientists pinpoint the best UK locations to establish new populations of native red squirrels.

Dr Cox said: “I will use physical testing to determine the force needed to process food items typically consumed by squirrels and virtual modelling to simulate the mechanics of feeding.

“These physical and virtual experiments will enable us to explore the extent to which the ability to eat different food items is influencing the survival of red and grey squirrels in different habitats, and the extent to which they are competing for food.”

Workshops

He also received £4,500 funding from the APEX scheme to deliver workshops and online resources for primary schools introducing children to the history of squirrels in the UK and to explain the threats facing red squirrels.

The APEX grants, which promote collaboration across science, engineering, social sciences and humanities, are jointly awarded by the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, with the generous support of the Leverhulme Trust.

The APEX award scheme offers up to £100,000 to researchers wanting to pursue interdisciplinary and curiosity-driven research that benefits wider society.