Expansión poblacional de una especie introducida en la Argentina: la ardilla de vientre rojo Callosciurus erythraeus

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Population expansion of an exotic mammal in Argentina: the Red-Bellied Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus. Biological invasions are one of the major threats to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and they provoke economic losses to productive systems. A wild population of the Red-Bellied Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus, native to South-east Asia, has established in the Province of Buenos Aires (Argentina) since 1973. The objective of this study is to assess the spatial distribution of the Red-Bellied Squirrel and describe the opinion of local inhabitants regarding the presence of this exotic species. We conducted 312 interviews in the district of Luján (original release site of this species) and other neighbouring districts, between August 2003 and March 2004. The area of the range distribution of squirrels was calculated using the minimum convex polygon method in a geographical information system. The present distribution of the Red-Bellied Squirrels (the only squirrel species present in this region) covers an area of approximately 680 km2. The increment of the radial distribution of squirrels was larger during the last five years (1999–2004: 1.6 km/year) than in a previous period (1973–1999: 0.3 km/year). While some inhabitants and local producers reported that the squirrels caused economic damages (e.g. in fruit plantations, afforestations, electric and irrigation systems), other inhabitants enjoy the presence of this species given its ornamental value, as a pet and even as a tourist attraction. The latter may encourage the transport of squirrels creating new invasive points, as has already occurred in the province of Córdoba (Argentina), and generating one of the major difficulties to prevent further expansion of this species.