What Do Squirrels Do for the Environment

What Do Squirrels Do for the Environment Actually?

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Krystine

Squirrels are often viewed as pesky backyard rodents.

While considered pests by some, squirrels fill important niche roles across diverse ecosystems.

But do these nimble creatures provide any real ecological advantages?

What Do Squirrels Do for the Environment?

Tree squirrels use a mnemonic technique called “spatial chunking” to sort out and bury their nut scores by size, type, and perhaps nutritional value and taste. Image Credit: How Stuff Works

Squirrels provide important ecological services by dispersing seeds that help regenerate forests, contributing to soil enrichment, and serving as prey that sustains diverse species.

Squirrels scatter hoard nuts and seeds, supporting biodiversity through improved germination.

Their forgotten buried caches sprout new trees that fill forest gaps.

And squirrels are a key food source for over 50 mammals and raptors as transferors of energy up food chains.

While sometimes considered backyard pests, healthy squirrel populations indicate thriving natural habitats.

Overall, squirrels contribute significantly to forest ecosystems through seed dispersal, soil nourishment, and participation in food webs.

Key Points

  • Squirrels bury food caches that grow new trees, regenerating forests.
  • Birds of prey like hawks and eagles feed on squirrels as a food source.
  • Squirrels enhance soil fertility by distributing and planting seeds.

Do squirrels disperse seeds?

Squirrel carrying seeds
Squirrels contribute to the environment because of their habit of planting seeds. Image Credit: Maclean’s

Yes, squirrels act as seed dispersers, carrying and burying seeds of nuts, acorns, and other fruits far from the parent tree like female pine cones from pine trees.

This dispersal promotes new tree growth.

Squirrels may move thousands of seeds over lifetimes.

Their forgetful nature leads them to abandon many buried caches, enabling germination.

This dispersal fosters forest health.

How does seed dispersal by squirrels help plants?

By spreading seeds away from the concentrated area below parent plants, squirrels support better seedling survival and genetic diversity.

Dispersed seeds have lower competition for water and light resources and may escape seed predators.

Squirrels’ scattered hoarding patterns boost germination.

Do squirrels help forests regenerate?

Yes, the seeds squirrels bury but forget to retrieve later can generate new tree growth, filling empty forest niches and gaps.

This forest regeneration helps recovery from disturbances like fires.

Squirrels don’t intend reforestation benefits, but their behavior delivers them.

Are squirrels prey for other wildlife?

Yes, squirrels are eaten by owls, hawks, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, snakes, and even household cats and dogs.

Young squirrels experience high predation rates.

This energy transfer through the food chain helps sustain diverse animal populations that prey on squirrels.

Their role as prey species is ecologically vital.

How does squirrel predation affect food chains?

Squirrels occupy an important middle role in forest food chains.

Hawks feed on squirrels eating acorns, transferring energy higher up the links.

Predator decline would follow declines in squirrel numbers.

Maintaining robust squirrel populations is key to strengthening ecosystem food networks.

Do squirrels have negative environmental impacts?

Squirrels can spread invasive plant seeds from supplemental feeders and compete with songbirds for resources.

Tree bark gnawing damages a small fraction of trees.

However, their contributions to seed dispersal and food chains exceed drawbacks.

Overall, robust squirrel populations indicate healthy ecosystem functioning.

Should people avoid feeding squirrels?

Hand-feeding squirrels facilitates disease transmission and unnatural behavior, so directly feeding them should be avoided.

Keeping feeders clean and only filling them when necessary limits congregating yet sustains squirrels naturally without creating dependency.

Do urban squirrels offer environmental benefits?

Yes, urban squirrels still contribute to seed dispersal and provide prey for urban predators like hawks and cats within green spaces.

Their abundance indicates neighborhood environments offer suitable habitats.

Peacefully coexisting with urban squirrels maintains functioning local food webs.

Are any squirrel species threatened?

Some species with limited ranges like the Mt. Graham red squirrel face population threats from factors like wildfires, invasive species, and logging.

Protecting vulnerable forest ecosystems helps conserve them.

More widespread species remain productive when responsibly managed.

Prioritizing forest preservation allows squirrels to persist.

Should people promote squirrel conservation?


Because squirrels fill important ecological roles, protecting squirrel populations also protects the food webs and seed dispersal services forests depend on.

Advocating for habitat preservation enables squirrels to contribute natural benefits.

Their niche matters to ecosystem health.

How do Squirrels Benefit Humans?

Squirrels benefit humans in several ways.

As prolific seed dispersers, squirrels help regenerate forests naturally, supporting lumber industries and habitat recovery after fires or logging.

This regenerative capacity also boosts local economies through boosted outdoor recreation.

Squirrels help control invasive plants by preferentially eating native seeds suited to an area’s ecology.

Squirrels provide enjoyment as fun backyard wildlife, inspiring creativity, entertainment, and connection with nature.

Watching squirrels teaches children about ecology and responsibility.

Some cultures even hunt squirrels sustainably for food as part of their heritage.

Overall, squirrels support economic industries, ecosystems, and human quality of life.

What Would Happen if Squirrels Went Extinct?

If squirrels went extinct, forest regeneration would slow, hampering ecosystems that rely on squirrel seed dispersal for new tree growth.

Secondary extinctions of predatory species like hawks, coyotes, and bobcats could follow.

Soil health would decline without the enrichment of unearthed buried caches.

Backyards would lose a source of amusement and connection with nature.

Some invasive plants could spread faster without squirrel seed preferences balancing them.

And the loss of a primary food source and seed disperser would have ripple effects across interconnected food webs.

Ecological disruption could gradually accumulate over time.

While populations would shift, the invaluable niche roles squirrels fill would be difficult to replace if lost entirely.

What are the Benefits of Backyard Squirrels?

When populations are balanced, backyard squirrels provide more benefits than harm.

As seed dispersers, they help regenerate yards with new plants and trees while controlling invasive species spread.

Squirrels contribute to natural pest control by eating insects and grubs.

Watching their antics provides entertainment and a connection with wildlife.

Squirrels indicate healthy backyard habitats with adequate resources.

Their buries and nests support local biodiversity.

And deterring them fully undermines positive contributions.

Ensuring squirrel access to habitat without attracting excessive numbers through food allows coexistence supporting yard ecosystem functioning.

Overall, backyard squirrels offer more advantages than downsides.

Are Squirrels Bad for Your Yard?

In extreme overabundance, squirrels can damage gardens, wires, and houses with gnawing and nest building.

But moderate squirrel activity in yards is more beneficial than detrimental.

As seed dispersers, squirrels help yards self-regenerate with new plants.

They control pests and weeds as omnivores.

Watching squirrels provides entertainment and wildlife appreciation.

Some damage from digging and chewing is inevitable with any wildlife.

But balanced squirrel populations indicate a healthy backyard ecosystem.

Preventing overcrowding through resource management allows coexistence with squirrels in beneficial harmony rather than combative deterrence.

A few pesky behaviors do not outweigh squirrels’ important niche roles.

Key Takeaway:

  • Dispersing seeds essential for regenerating forests
  • Prey for over 50 species including hawks, coyotes, and bobcats
  • Soil enrichment from buried food caches that sprout new trees
  • Indicating habitat health by foraging needs met within green spaces
  • Connecting ecosystem layers through key middle food chain position


How do squirrels benefit humans?

Squirrels provide natural seed dispersal that helps reforest logged or damaged areas at no cost. They control invasive plant species spread by preferentially eating native seeds. Squirrels are also fun backyard wildlife that inspires joy, creativity, and interest in nature for many people. Their antics provide free entertainment.

What would happen if squirrels went extinct?

The extinction of squirrels could slow forest regeneration, undermining ecosystems dependent on tree growth and seed dispersal. Squirrel predators like coyotes, bobcats, and goshawks would decline without this food source. Soil enrichment from buried food caches would decrease. Backyards would lack amusing wildlife activity. And deeper damage to interconnected food webs and plant populations could follow. Ecological disruption would be significant.

Are squirrels bad for your yard?

In overabundance, squirrels can damage gardens with digging and nibbling. But moderate squirrel visitors help control weeds and insect pests while dispersing seeds. Providing balance through resource management, not deterrence, allows coexistence supporting backyard biodiversity. Most squirrel behaviors in yards are ultimately helpful, not detrimental. Peaceful coexistence fosters ecosystem health.

At GreenChiCafe, we are passionate about the environment and preserving the beauty of the natural world.

Please check out our website for more content on living sustainably.

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