Fox populations: Research on foxes
Across the world there are a number of research projects that study foxes, and these have a variety of aims. Some are looking into methods of resolving conflicts in urban and/or rural areas, others are investigating different aspects of fox biology, behaviour, ecology and physiology, whilst others are exploring the potential role of foxes as vectors of disease.
Here we have collated a list of the research groups working on red fox projects. It is a fascinating overview of the interest that foxes generate among scientists and the general public worldwide.
If you work on foxes and you are not on this list, we want to hear from you!
Fox research groups around the world
- >> Asia and Australia:
- >> Europe:
- >> North America:
TopAsia and Australia:
Vertebrate Pest Research Unit - Fox Research Projects
The fox has long been suspected of being a significant predator of native wildlife in Australia. Recent studies have implicated the fox as a major cause of population declines in a range of small to medium-sized native species. The extent of fox predation on lambs remains unclear, although it is increasingly perceived by producers as high. The Vertebrate Pest Research Unit has invested considerable resources over many years into studies on fox ecology and helped develop improved management strategies. Specific projects conducted over the last decade include:
- Fox predation: impact and management on agricultural land
- The effect of imposed sterility on population dynamics of foxes
- The energetics and body condition of foxes
- Towards economic and sustainable fox control
- Conditioned taste aversion in foxes
- Evaluation of guard animals for livestock protection
- Effective implementation of regional fox control programs
TopFox predation: impact and management on agricultural land
This project involved a large-scale population management experiment using properties and adjacent refugia as experimental units. Sites were selected for homogeneity of habitat, stocking rate, management practices and prey species. Fox densities were maintained using one of three strategies (two replicates of each); no control, reduction of fox densities at lambing time using the Rural Lands Protection Boards' recommended strategies for 1080 baiting, and intensive control throughout the year. The benefit of fox control was based on differences in lamb survival rates; the number of lambs that survived to marking were compared with the number of foetuses detected by ultrasound, and the costs associated with fox control were assessed. All forms of lamb mortality were monitored so that fox predation could be accurately differentiated from other causes. This involved intensive surveys of flocks at lambing using established techniques for determining causes of lamb loss (including other predators).
TopThe effect of imposed sterility on population dynamics of foxes
This was a collaborative research project with CSIRO and the Pest Animal Control Cooperative Research Centre, the latter being set up to investigate the potential of using immunocontraception for rabbits, mice and foxes. The intention was to prevent pregnancy but not to impair normal hormonal function and the associated sexual behaviour of treated individuals; thus in theory the foxes would continue to occupy territories, maintain their social status, suppress the fecundity of subordinates but not breed. The objective of this project was to determine if the level of sterility that immunocontraception is likely to produce will hold fox densities at a greatly reduced level, such that the extent of their predation on native animals and livestock is more acceptable. To do this, the demographic responses of fox populations subjected to different treatments was compared. Of importance to the overall objectives was to determine whether critical differences occurred in the survival and territorial behaviour of sterile compared to fertile vixens.
TopThe energetics and body condition of foxes
The objective of this project was to investigate and describe the energetic requirements of foxes at critical times of their biological year. This involved the evaluation of field metabolic rates and post mortem studies to determine seasonal variations in fat deposition and body condition. By measuring seasonal energy budgets for foxes, and confirming critical times of the year when resources are limited, it should be possible to relate this to potential baiting strategies, and use energetic demands as an indicator of impact on prey biomass.
TopTowards economic and sustainable fox control
The use of 1080 for broad-scale fox control is the only viable option currently available for the protection of conservation values and agricultural production. Potential alternatives are immunocontraception, which is looking increasingly unlikely, and Cabergolin (an abortifacient) which might be useful in limited situations. Many people are calling for 1080 to be phased out as a matter of ugency. It is therefore essential to ensure that 1080 fox baits are being used to maximum effect and with minimal undesirable environmental consequences. The potential for improving bait uptake or reducing the number of baits used during a fox poisoning program needs to be investigated, not only in terms of safety and efficacy, but also for cost effectiveness. It may be possible to increase the distance between baits, pulse bait or put out fewer baits more often without affecting any reduction in fox numbers. Distance restrictions also need to be reviewed. Continued work in these areas is required to tighten baiting recommendations and improve the cost efficiency and environmental soundness of fox baiting programs.
TopConditioned taste aversion in foxes
Conditioned taste aversion (CTA) occurs when an animal associates the taste of a particular food with illness, and avoids consuming that food in subsequent encounters. As a non-lethal method of wildlife management, CTA has the potential to reduce predation on livestock and on endangered species without detrimental effects on predator populations. The method also has the potential to help reduce the problem of multiple bait take where a vaccine or fertility control agent is being delivered. Preliminary pen trials conducted on foxes by DEFRA in the UK have shown some promise for this method using a commercially available anthelmintic. As a collaborative effort with the UK, this research was extended to evaluate the method on free-living fox populations in Australia.
TopEvaluation of guard animals for livestock protection
In Australia, guard dogs and alpacas are used to protect sheep and goats from fox and wild dog predation. However, the evidence of their effectiveness is largely based on anecdotal accounts and there are no empirical data to verify these claims. A number of issues need to be explored e.g. what is the industry perception of such a management technique, what would be the level of uptake if guard animals were available, what level of effort would be acceptable to producers to initiate predator protection using guard animals, and what would be the costs to producers as opposed to the economic impact of predators? This scientific review project will serve as a platform for future research.
TopEffective implementation of regional fox control programs
Regionally coordinated fox control programs in agricultural lands aim to reduce the number of lambs killed by foxes. These programs encourage landowners to bait at the same time as their neighbours (group bait) with the aim of reducing the density of foxes over a large area at times of the year when foxes are most susceptible. The effectiveness of these programs has been evaluated over a number of large areas in the state, using combinations of landholder perceptions and detailed measurements of production values and fox populations. Appropriate levels of fox control (baiting strategy) which will achieve production benefits have also been examined, which can in turn be used to derive control effort/damage relationships. Shooting is increasingly being used as a means of reducing the agricultural impact of foxes. Additional studies have compared this technique with 1080 baiting for cost/benefit purposes.
Website: Vertebrate Pest Research
Contact: Glen Saunders, research leader
Collaborators: Mani Berghout, Peter Fleming, Matt Gentle, Carolyn Greentree, Barry Kay, Lynette McLeod, Steve McLeod, Jim Thompson and Roy Winstanley
TopInvasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre
A variety of DNA-based technologies are used to study the ecology of foxes in Australia. This research is important because foxes are a major agricultural and biodiversity pest, estimated to cost A$228 million annually. Examples of research include:
- Using high resolution DNA markers (microsatellite DNA) to map movement patterns across the entire range of the fox in Australia
- Non-invasive DNA sampling to estimate fox abundance and survivorship when subject to lethal control
- Identifying the provenance of foxes introduced to the island of Tasmania
TopUsing high resolution DNA markers (microsatellite DNA) to map movement patterns across the entire range of the fox in Australia
In particular, the aim is to find out how movement varies among different landscapes and how this information can be used to improve methods of control. This project has been conducted in collaboration with around 1000 members of the public as The Fox DNA Project.
TopNon-invasive DNA sampling to estimate fox abundance and survivorship when subject to lethal control
Foxes are difficult to study by conventional means such as trapping, but measuring their abundance is critical to assessing the cost-benefit of control operations. Several systems have been developed to monitor fox abundance accurately from readily collected trace DNA samples, such as scats (faeces) and hairs.
TopIdentifying the provenance of foxes introduced to the island of Tasmania
It is widely believed that foxes invaded the island of Tasmania around 2001. If they become established, foxes would devastate the agricultural and tourism industries on the island. This project focuses on identifying the likely mainland source of these foxes, and whether they represent multiple independent entries or an established breeding population. These scenarios would dictate different approaches to management of the current or future invasions.
TopHokkaido University - Laboratory of Social Ecology, Faculty of Letters
The laboratory of social ecology, Faculty of Letters, Hokkaido University, has led several behavioural and ecological studies of wild red foxes.
The ecology and behaviour of red foxes
In Shiretoko National Park, red foxes often appeared on the road side and were provisioned by tourist. We studied the food habits and ranging behaviour of these foxes, and their food begging behaviour. Food habit studies of red foxes have also been conducted elsewhere in Japan.
Sarcoptic mange outbreak in the red fox
The study described the outbreak of sarcoptic mange among red foxes in Japan and its impact on the fox population.
TopLaboratory of Parasitology, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences
Fox tapeworm study
The Laboratory of Parasitology, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Hokkaido University, is one of the most active centres on the study of the fox tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis, in Japan. The prevalence of the fox tapeworm in Japan has been investigated in natural, rural and urban areas. In the rural area, researchers conducted a de-worming trial of foxes by distributing anthelmintics to control the source of infection of human echinococcosis.
TopHokkaido Institute of Public Health - Medical Zoology Division
Researchers at the Medical Zoology Division, Hokkaido Institute of Public Health, have studied the ecology of the red fox as an important vector of zoonoses, especially alveolar hydatidosis (echinococcosis) in Hokkaido, Japan. Topics studied include: population dynamics of the red fox in Hokkaido, outbreaks of sarcoptic mange among foxes, dispersal behaviour in rural area and food habits of urban foxes, among others.
Contact: Kohji Uraguchi
The red fox ranges widely across Mongolia and represents one of the most common carnivores in the country. In recent years, however, over-harvesting and illegal poaching for fur have led to substantial declines in some areas and resulted in the species being listed as IUCN 'Near Threatened' in the 2006 Mongolian Red List of Mammals. In 2004, Jed Murdoch began a project with Ts. Munkhzul of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to investigate the biology of red foxes and other carnivores in steppe and semi-desert regions of Mongolia. The work focuses mainly on the behaviour and ecology of red foxes, as well as corsac foxes (Vulpes corsac), and aims to improve the species' conservation status.
Websites: Mongolia Carnivores;
Ikh Nart Nature
Contact: James (Jed) D. Murdoch
Collaborators: Mongolian Academy of Sciences - Institute of Biology, National University of Mongolia, Mongolian Conservation Coalition, Denver Zoological Foundation
TopFox Eradication Program
Website: Foxes in Tasmania
Contact: Matt Marrison
Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute - Medium-sized carnivores and rabies
As part of this project, researchers have radio-tracked foxes, raccoon dogs, badgers and domestic cats in order to study their home ranges, densities, movements, contacts and habitat use in south-east Finland since 2000. The aim was to collect data on the ecology of potential rabies vectors and to calculate rabies models for northern Europe. If rabies comes to Finland, it would be from Russia. Therefore, the study area was located very near the Russian border. On the basis of these data, rabies models are produced in cooperation with Graham Smith, Central Science Laboratory, York, UK. Researchers have also collected DNA-samples of foxes and raccoon dogs to calculate the genetic structure of their populations and the dispersal distances of young foxes and raccoon dogs. This is done in cooperation with Jouni Aspi, Oulu University, Finland.
Earlier projects have included a diet study of foxes and other medium-sized carnivores, and a study of the interactions between foxes and mountain hares in Finland, and foxes, martens and grouse. These studies were based on snow track-counts of all game animals each winter and grouse counts in summer all over the country. Finally, there has been a predator removal experiment in Finland. The fox was one of the predator species removed. The study aimed to elucidate the effect of predator removal on waterfowl, hare and grouse populations.
Website: Game and Fisheries
Contact: Kaarina Kauhala
Collaborators: Katja Holmala, Helsinki University, Jouni Aspi and Julia Schregel, Oulu University and Graham Smith, Central Science Laboratory
Mammal Research Unit - University of Bristol
Stephen Harris started to study the Bristol's fox population in 1977, and the study has been running continuously ever since. Initially the work concentrated on estimating the number of foxes and the basic demographic process of the entire Bristol population. Since 1990, however, the research group began to analyse detailed individual fox behaviour in the north-west part of the city, one of the areas with the highest fox densities.
In spring 1994, for the first time, a fox was found to be infected with sarcoptic mange. This animal had been born in Bristol the previous spring, dispersed out of the city during the winter, and returned to his natal range in May 1994, bringing the infection with him from the surrounding rural area. The fox population crashed following the arrival of mange, and in spring 1996 no collared animals were left alive on the study area. The population has slowly recovered but over a decade later fox numbers have still not yet reached pre-mange levels. In addition to continuing the long-term studies into fox numbers and patterns of social organisation, current projects include studies on social behaviour, fox communication and scent marking.
University of Pavia - Laboratory of Eco-Ethology
The laboratory runs studies on the behavioural ecology of carnivores with particular reference to mustelids and canids. The main research areas are ecological-spatial distribution, trophic niche, habitat selection and estimating animal density using faecal DNA typing (e.g. the otter). Italian researchers have conducted studies on fox diet, local feeding specialisation and breeding den census. Currently, research is in progress on the overlap of trophic niche and habitat use in sympatric carnivores (fox, badger, stone marten and pine marten).
The domestication of the silver fox
The Institute of Cytology and Genetics - Russian Academy of Sciences in collaboration with The James A. Baker Institute for Animal Health, Cornell University, USA and Department of Biology, University of Utah, USA
Fox research in meadow bird region
Canid Diversity and Conservation Unit - University of California Davis
Ben Sacks and colleagues have been working on demographic and population parameters of non-native red foxes in California since 1996. Along with Keith Aubry (United States Forest Service), Mark Statham, Sam Wisely (KSU), and John Perrine (California State University, San Luis Obispo), the group currently works on the phylogeography of red fox and the origins of several putative non-native populations in North America. Most current research involves both ecological and genetic aspects of a population in California's Sacramento Valley, previously thought to be non-native, but now known to be native and phylogenetically distinct from most other populations in North America (and Eurasia). The current work on this population also involves Heiko Wittmer (UC Davis) and Marcelle Moore (MS student, Sacramento State University) and is more field oriented.
The group also launched a website, specifically to invite reports from the public and these have been instrumental in helping to identify dens in the sparsely distributed Sacramento Valley population.
Ben Sacks and colleagues analysed the DNA of the Sacramento Valley foxes to see if they might be native. Foxes had been known to be present in the area as far back as 1880 and no explanation existed for how they got there. In spring 2007 field work and intensive non-invasive sampling began to look more closely at the population structure, size and basic ecology. The group has also been attempting to study fox coat-colour genetics throughout North America with respect to natural selection, which required an understanding of population genetic structure of red foxes independently of coat-colour genes.
Website: Canid Diversity and
Conservation Group; to report fox dens
in Sacramento Valley: Sacramento Valley Fox
Contact: Ben Sacks
Collaborators: Keith Aubry (United States Forest Service), Mark Statham, Sam Wisely (Kansas State University), John Perrine (California State University, San Luis Obispo), Heiko Wittmer (UC Davis), Marcelle Moore and Gina Tarbill (Sacramento State University)