|"Abert's Squirrel" Colored Pencil|
Exhibiting no fear of heights, an Abert's Squirrel is perched on a limb high above the forest floor. It's a warm spring morning and the cautious squirrel needs to collect pinecones for an early breakfast. The large, bushy tail and long ear tufts are the distinctive features of this endearing creature. Compared to the rowdy, little red squirrel, who thinks it owns the forest, the Abert's is quite charming.
A story about the simple life of a squirrel may seem tedious but we can learn much from its interesting and complex partnership with the ponderosa pine tree. Also known as the tassel-eared squirrel, it is strictly confined to ponderosa pine forests. The tree provides not only a home but also most of its diet. In exchange for food and shelter, the squirrel spreads fungal spores around the tree that are beneficial to the pine's health.
The squirrel has to manage its fragile resource wisely because if the exploitation becomes too extensive, the tree will go into defense mode. It will produce extra terpenes (chemicals that give pines their scent) to ruin the squirrel's appetite. The tree's reaction evicts the squirrel but at the cost of reduced vitality and a slower growth rate. In other words, they need to get along in order for each species to thrive. Just like any prosperous relationship between plant and animal there must be some give and take.