Polar Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 9, pp 1421–1431 | Cite as

Arctic fox versus red fox in the warming Arctic: four decades of den surveys in north Yukon

  • Daniel GallantEmail author
  • Brian G. Slough
  • Donald G. Reid
  • Dominique BerteauxEmail author
Original Paper


During the last century, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has expanded its distribution into the Arctic, where it competes with the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), an ecologically similar tundra predator. The red fox expansion correlates with climate warming, and the ultimate determinant of the outcome of the competition between the two species is hypothesized to be climate. We conducted aerial and ground fox den surveys in the northern Yukon (Herschel Island and the coastal mainland) to investigate the relative abundance of red and arctic foxes over the last four decades. This region has undergone the most intense warming observed in North America, and we hypothesized that this climate change led to increasing dominance of red fox over arctic fox. Results of recent surveys fall within the range of previous ones, indicating little change in the relative abundance of the two species. North Yukon fox dens are mostly occupied by arctic fox, with active red fox dens occurring sympatrically. While vegetation changes have been reported, there is no indication that secondary productivity and food abundance for foxes have increased. Our study shows that in the western Arctic of North America, where climate warming was intense, the competitive balance between red and arctic foxes changed little in 40 years. Our results challenge the hypotheses linking climate to red fox expansion, and we discuss how climate warming’s negative effects on predators may be overriding positive effects of milder temperatures and longer growing seasons.


Herschel Island Population trends Vulpes lagopus Vulpes vulpes Climate warming Yukon 



We thank Guillaume Szor, François Racine, Francis Taillefer, Andrew Fehr, Helen Slama, Alice Kenney, Elizabeth Hofer, Charles J. Krebs, and Scott Gilbert for field assistance. We thank Richard Gordon, Edward McLeod, Lee John Meyook, Jordan McLeod, Deon Arey, Sam McLeod, and Pierre Foisy for helping with field logistics. We thank helicopter pilots Florian Koch and Robert Ungar. We are grateful to Parks Canada for permission to work in Ivvavik National Park. We thank Bob Sagar for gathering climate data from the Komakuk Beach Environment Canada weather station database. Three reviewers made comments that improved this paper. Funding and support for this research come from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (grants to Dominique Berteaux, Alexander Graham Bell CGS-D graduate scholarship to Daniel Gallant), the International Polar Year program of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the ArcticNet Network of Centers of Excellence of Canada, the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (Don Reid), the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP), Natural Resources Canada, the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Aurora Research Institute, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Centre d’Études Nordiques (CEN), the Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), and the Université du Québec à Rimouski. We thank J. Martin Bland at the University of York (York, United Kingdom) and Barbara K. Butland of St George’s Hospital Medical School (London, United Kingdom) for sharing their unpublished statistical procedure.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chaire de recherche du Canada en conservation des écosystèmes nordiques and Centre d’Études NordiquesUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada
  2. 2.WhitehorseCanada
  3. 3.Wildlife Conservation Society CanadaWhitehorseCanada

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