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speckled Spermophilus suslicus, yellow S. fulvus red-cheeked S. erythrogenys, European S. citellus


Study Site: Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan.
Dates: Since 2003.
Participants: Matrosova Vera, Volodin Ilya, Volodina Elena.
Collaborators: Laboratory of population ecology A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution RAS, Pivanova Svetlana (Lipetsk State Pedagogical University, Russia), Blumstein Daniel (University of California, USA), Schneiderová Irena (Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic), Ivanova Anastasia (Lomonosov Moscow State University).
Popular papers:
<Science & Life>.


The study is based on long-term research of behavioural ecology, in collaboration with members of expedition of the Laboratory of population ecology A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution RAS. We use a technique of multiple recordings of calls from individually marked ground squirrels, with known life history, from live-traps, followed by releasing them back in the place of capture and also repeated recordings from free-ranging dye-marked individuals.
Main purpose of this research is examining the within-species variability and stability of acoustic characteristics in two species of ground-dwelling sciurids.

The current work is focused on investigating the mechanisms of establishing biogeographical differences between a few populations of three ground squirrel species via estimation of interrelationships between genomic markers and intraspecific variation of far-range acoustic signals (finansial support: RFBR, grant 18-04-00400).

The project has a few research focuses:

  • Vocal variation in the state of discomfort.
  • Ratio of features of alarm calls, determining individual, sex and age-related attributes of a caller.
  • Vocal changes with maturation.
  • Short-term and long-term on stability of alarm call characteristics in individual callers.
  • Kinship effects on the alarm call structure.
  • Comparison of ratios of individual, sex and age variation between species and between different populations within species.
  • Between-population variation in the alarm calls structure.
  • Within- and between-population genetic polymorphism of mtDNA.
  • Relations between geographical variation in vocal and genetic data.

Within-species vocal variation represents a base for natural selection and evolution of adaptive features of acoustic signals. Studying the within-species variation of acoustic behaviour helps to understand mechanisms of formation of social structures and supporting social interrelationships within colonies of ground squirrels.
Ground squirrels represent a traditional model group for studying the alarm communication. Speckled and yellow ground squirrels belongs to the same genus Spermophilus, but differ strongly in many features of biology.
The speckled ground squirrel in one of the smallest, whilst the yellow ground squirrel is the largest. Speckled ground squirrels inhabit "closed" meadow habitats with high vegetation, whereas yellow ground squirrels create their colonies in "open" steppe-desert habitats with patchy grasses. At last, speckled ground squirrels are solitary rather than social, whilst yellow ground squirrels are substantially more social.


sound videoSounds in the Gallery.


Yellow ground squirrelplay

alarm call

Speckled ground squirrel

S_suslicus3 S_suslicus
Red-cheeked ground squirrel (Photo by Anastasia Ivanova)




  • Matrosova V.A., Ivanova A.D., Volodina E.V., Volodin I.A., Alexandrov D.Yu., Sibiryakova O.V., Ermakov O.A. (2019). Phylogenetic relationship and variation of alarm call traits of populations of red-cheeked ground squirrels (Spermophilus erythrogenys sensu lato) suggest taxonomic delineation. Integrative Zoology, 2019, v. 14, p. 341-353. doi: 10.1111/1749-4877.12383 249.pdf
  • Schneiderová I., Volodina E.V., Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A. One plus one: binary alarm calls retain individual signature for longer periods than single-note alarms in the European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus) // Behavioural Processes, 2017, V. 138, p. 73–81. 232.pdf

  • Matrosova V.A., Rusin M.Yu., Volodina E.V., Proyavka S.V., Savinetskaya L.E., Shekarova O.N., Rashevska H.V., Volodin I.A. Genetic and alarm call diversity across scattered populations of speckled ground squirrels (Spermophilus suslicus) // Mammalian Biology, 2016, V. 81, p. 255–265. 225.pdf

  • Matrosova V.A., Savinetskaya L.E., Shekarova O.N., Pivanova S.V., Rusin M.Yu., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Tchabovsky A.V. Within- and between-population polymorphism of the mtDNA control region of the speckled ground squirrel (Spermophilus suslicus) // Doklady Biological Sciences, 2014, V. 455, p. 143-148. 309.pdf

  • Matrosova V.A., Pivanova S.V., Savinetskaya L.E., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Shekarova O.N. The between-population variation of the alarm call in the speckled ground squirrel (Spermophilus suslicus, Rodentia, Sciuridae): effects of sex, age and body mass // Zoologicheskii Zhurnal, 2012, v. 91, N 4, p. 453–463. [in Russian] . 188.pdf

  • Matrosova V.A., Schneiderová I., VolodinI.A., Volodina E.V. Species-specific and shared features in vocal repertoires of three Eurasian ground squirrels (genus Spermophilus) // Acta Theriologica, 2012, v. 57, N 1, p. 65–78. 186.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Blumstein D.T., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V. The potential to encode sex, age, and individual identity in the alarm calls of three species of Marmotinae // Naturwissenschaften, 2011, v. 98, p. 181–192. 180.pdf
  • Volodina E.V., Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A. An unusual effect of maturation on the alarm call fundamental frequency in two species of ground squirrels. Bioacoustics, 2010, v. 20, N 1, p. 87–98. 178.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Vasilieva N.A. Stability of acoustic individuality in the alarm calls of wild yellow ground squirrels Spermophilus fulvus and contrasting calls from trapped and free-ranging callers // Naturwissenschaften, 2010, v. 97, p. 707-715. 175.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Vasilieva N.A., Kochetkova A.A. Between-year stability of individual alarm calls in the yellow ground squirrel Spermophilus fulvus // Journal of Mammalogy, 2010, v. 91, N 3, p. 620–627. 173.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V. The short-term and long-term individuality in speckled ground squirrel alarm calls // Journal of Mammalogy, 2009, v. 90, N 1, p. 158-166. 165.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A. Within-species variability of vocal behaviour in speckled (Spermophilus suslicus) and yellow (S. fulvus) ground squirrels. Ph.D. Thesis Abstract, Moscow, 2009, 24 p. (available in Russian). PhD thesis.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V. Does kinship affect the alarm call structure in the yellow ground squirrel Spermophilus fulvus? // Lynx (Praha), n. s., 2008, v. 39, N 2, p. 295–303. 161.pdf
  • Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Matrosova V.A., Savinetskaya L.E., Schekarova O.N., Voytsik V.A. Population density does not affect the alarm call characteristics in the speckled ground squirrel Spermophilus suslicus // Lynx (Praha), n. s., 2008, v. 39, N 2, p. 333–342. 160.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V., Babitsky A.F. Pups crying bass: vocal adaptation for avoidance of age-dependent predation risk in ground squirrels? // Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 2007, v. 62, N 2, p. 181-191. 150.pdf
  • Matrosova V.A., Volodin I.A., Volodina E.V. The diversity of calls produced by live-trapped speckled ground squirrels Spermophilus suslicus (Rodentia, Sciuridae) // Bulletin of Moscow Society of Nature Explorers. Dept. of Biology, 2006, vol. 111 (5), p. 84-87 (available in Russian). 146.pdf
  • Volodin I.A. Individuality in the alarm call of the spotted suslik Spermophilus suslicus (Rodentia, Sciuridae) // Zoologicheskii Zhurnal, 2005, v. 84, N 2, p. 228-235. (available in Russian). 137.pdf