Mammal Research

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 331–340 | Cite as

Snow tracking reveals different foraging patterns of red foxes and pine martens

  • Tomas WillebrandEmail author
  • Sofia Willebrand
  • Torfinn Jahren
  • Vidar Marcström
Original Paper


Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) shares similar prey preferences and co-occurs with several other carnivores, and is together with pine marten (Martes martes), the most common mesocarnivore in the northern boreal forest. Voles are important prey for both species, but it is unclear to what extent they compete for the same food resources in winter. Here, we use 2139 km and 533 km of meticulous snow tracking of red foxes and pine martens to evaluate their food niches. We measured hunting and digging behaviour, whether successful or not, and the effect of snow depth and temperature. Pine martens were restricted to forested habitats, whereas red foxes used a wide range of habitats. Red foxes were found to dig more often than pine martens, 0.67 vs. 0.39 digging events per kilometre. Hunting was less common and similar in both species, about 0.1 hunting event per kilometre. Pine martens were more efficient in hunting and finding food remains compared to red foxes. Increasing snow depth reduced hunting success and also reduced dig success of red foxes. Food niche overlap was small. Red foxes used mostly voles and carrion remains of ungulates, whereas pine martens used cached eggs and small birds. We suggest that caching eggs is an important strategy for pine martens to survive winter in northern latitudes. Snow depth was important for capturing voles, and thick snow cover appeared to mask the effect of vole peaks. Intensified land use, as clear-cutting and leaving slaughter remains from harvest, will benefit red foxes on the expense of pine martens. The ongoing climate change with warmer winters and less snow will likely further benefit the red fox.


Niche Competition Red fox Pine marten Carcass Egg Voles 



We are grateful to Erik Engren for organizing the field work and selecting trappers for the tracking. The field work was financed by the National Swedish Environment Protection Board and the Swedish Hunter’s Association, with permission to work on the islands by Svenska Cellulosa AB. Additional support was provided by Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. We thank two anonymous reviewers for many helpful suggestions


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Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forestry and Wildlife ManagementInland Norway University of Applied SciencesKoppangNorway
  2. 2.Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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