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Individual Highlight

Elusive Carolina Northern Flying Squirrels in Red Spruce Forests Face Survival Challenges

Photo of A radio-collared Carolina northern flying squirrel. Corrine A. Diggins, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.A radio-collared Carolina northern flying squirrel. Corrine A. Diggins, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.Snapshot : The endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel is a secretive, nocturnal species and not much is known about its behavior and ecology. Forest Service researchers were part of a team that studied habitat preferences of this species. Study results showed the importance of management of red spruce in the face of hardwood intrusion. Red spruce is vital to assuring suitable habitat for the Carolina northern flying squirrel and protecting it from competition and the parasites associated with the more aggressive southern flying squirrel.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Rodrigue, Jane 
Research Location : West Virginia; Virginia; North Carolina; Tennessee
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 615


The Carolina northern flying squirrel is only known to occur in 13 mountain peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. Due to the rugged landscape it inhabits there has been limited research on its habits and ecology. A Forest Service researcher was part of a team that used radio-telemetry to determine that the squirrel prefers to nest in yellow birch trees and requires stands of mature red spruce for its foraging habitat. Subterranean truffles and other fungi found in the spruce forest are an important component of this squirrel's diet. The current distribution range of red spruce is a fraction of what it was in the early 1900s, and an increase in oak and maple in the region has benefited a competing species, the southern flying squirrel. The latter species competes with northern flying squirrels for roost locations and is a host for a parasitic roundworm that is fatal to Carolina northern flying squirrels. Land management to increase red spruce on the landscape may deter further colonization of these areas by the southern flying squirrel and may provide some resiliency for the Carolina northern flying squirrel in the face of global climate change.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Mt. Pisgah National Forest
  • Christine A. Kelly, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Asheville
  • Douglas Newcomb, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Raleigh, NC
  • L. Michelle Gilley, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • Richard H. Odom and Corrine A. Diggins, VirginiaPolytechnic Institute and State University,Blacksburg
  • W. Mark Ford,US Geological Survey, Blacksburg, VA

Program Areas