Raccoons living in urban landscapes are feasting on human leftovers and suffering the consequences. Researchers at Laurentian University have examined how access to human food waste is increasing body mass and blood glucose in raccoon populations.
The study, recently published in the journal Conservation Physiology, was led by Albrecht I. Schulte-Hostedde, professor in evolutionary ecology at Laurentian University, in collaboration with assistant professor in obesity and metabolic disease research Jeffrey Gagnon.
“Urban environments are novel habitats for raccoons from an evolutionary perspective,” said Schulte-Hostedde. “We wanted to see if they are experiencing the same health problems as humans—obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome.”
“At Laurentian, there is a wealth of wildlife biologists and ecologists,” said Gagnon. “This collaborative study allowed me to provide expertise on how metabolism is affected during weight gain driven by a high fat and sugar diet.”
The study compared data from three groups of raccoons: those with high access to human food waste living on the grounds of the Toronto Zoo, those in a conservation area with moderate access to garbage, and those in a farming area with little access to food waste. The results were clear: due to a high consumption of human food, urban raccoons are not only putting on excessive weight, but are also experiencing higher blood sugar levels.
The project was also conducted as part of Laurentian’s Department of Biology undergraduate thesis course with fourth-year student Zvia Mazal.
“This is a major achievement for Zvia to have published a peer-reviewed article this early in her career, and is testament to the quality of our students and programming,” said Gagnon.
Claire Jardine, a veterinarian and associate professor from the University of Guelph, also contributed to the study.
“The next step,” added Schulte-Hostedde, “would be to explore what—if any—impact human food is having on raccoons from an evolutionary perspective.