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Squirrels in central London live shorter lives than those on the outskirts of the city

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Deteriorating air quality is a serious threat to the health and life of not only people, but also animals. Research conducted in London shows that gray squirrels that live closer to the center of the city suffer much more damage to the lungs than those living on its outskirts. This affects the lifespan of these rodents.

“In recent years, there have been sharp declines in populations of species that were previously quite well adapted to urban life,” study author Patricia Brekke from the Zoological Society London told the Guardian. – They concerned, among others, butterflies, bees, sparrows, starlings and hedgehogs. All of them have recently suffered huge losses in numbers, she added.

As the researcher noted, one possible explanation is the impact of air pollution on animal health, although there was no direct evidence to support this thesis in wild mammals. ‘The squirrel research was intended to fill this gap,’ she said. They were published in the journal “Environmental Pollution”.

Air pollution and its impact on the life of squirrels

Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), which is native to North America, was brought to Britain in the late 19th century. It has since spread to much of England and Wales at the expense of the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).

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A team of scientists autopsied 106 squirrels from five London boroughs – Camden, Greenwich, Haringey, Richmond upon Thames and Westminster – as well as two rural sites at Alice Holt in Surrey and Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. The squirrels were examined for signs of lung disease and the presence of atmospheric soot in their lung tissue. In addition, damage to the lymph node tissue, which is known as lymphoid tissue, occurs as loose clusters within the bronchial tubes, was also checked.

‘We found that the squirrels that came from the inner city had a lot more soot in their lung tissue but less lymphoid tissue in their lungs compared to those that came from the outer regions of London,’ said Simon Priestnall of the Royal Veterinary College in London. ‘In short, the lungs of those squirrels that died in Westminster, central London, were in much worse condition than those from the outskirts of the city, such as Richmond. And of course, air pollution is worst in the heart of the city as opposed to the outskirts, he added. Hence, it was concluded that squirrels living in the city live shorter than those living in the suburbs.

Air pollution in the city comes from construction and traffic. Emission sources include exhaust from diesel engines as well as particles from tires and brake linings. This makes people very sensitive to its influence. One recent study estimated that air pollution contributed to around six thousand deaths in London in 2019.

The team also wants to look at pets, particularly dogs. “When you take your dog for a daily walk, he shares a breathing space with you,” Priestnall told the Observer.. “And you live in the same house and travel in the same car, where both people and pets are exposed to the same high concentrations of air pollution, and that’s something we’d like to investigate.”

Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)Adobe Stock

the Guardian, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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