Polar Biology

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 93–98 | Cite as

Local variation in arctic fox abundance on Svalbard, Norway

  • Eva Fuglei
  • Nils Are Øritsland
  • Pål Prestrud
Original Paper


Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) numbers vary greatly, with cyclic fluctuations often associated with fluctuations in microtine rodents. However, in areas where small prey mammals are absent, such as Iceland and Svalbard, such cyclic fluctuations are lacking. Annual fluctuations in the density of the arctic fox population on the Brøggerhalvøya peninsula and Kongsfjorden region on Svalbard, Norway, were studied from 1990 to 2001 by using indices of fox abundance. All indices showed similar trends; fox numbers were low in 1990, increased until 1995 whereupon they decreased sharply, before increasing again and levelling off in 2001. Increasing numbers of foxes during the first part of the study paralleled increasing numbers of Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) carcasses in winter and increasing numbers of nesting barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) in summer. This study shows that the number of arctic foxes varies greatly even in areas without fluctuating microtine rodents.


Rabies Barnacle Goose Microtine Rodent Reindeer Population Svalbard Reindeer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank E. Johansen, K. Fossan, E. Molstad, N.M. Molstad (deceased), G. Christensen, S. Onarheim, A. Grimnaes, T.I. Karlsen, B.A. Nymoen, Ø. Blia, and S. Coulson for assistance capturing of some of the foxes and/or providing information about observation of foxes in the study area. We are grateful to Drs. A. Derocher, K. Frafjord, I.M. Tombre, M.J.J.E. Loonen and R.A. Ims for constructive and critical comments on the manuscript. The Governor of Svalbard and Kings Bay gave permission to capture arctic foxes on Brøggerhalvøya. All capture and handling methods were approved by the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act, with permission from the Norwegian National Animal Research Authority.


  1. Aanes R, Saether B-E, Øritsland NA (2000) Fluctuations of an introduced population of Svalbard reindeer: the effects of density dependence and climatic variation. Ecography 23:437–443Google Scholar
  2. Aanes R, Saether B-E, Smith FM, Cooper EJ, Wookey PA, Øritsland NA (2002) The arctic oscillation predicts effects of climate change in two trophic levels in a high-arctic ecosystem. Ecol Lett 5:445–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angerbjörn A, Arvidson B, Norén E, Strömgren L (1991) The effect of winter food on reproduction in the arctic fox, Alopex lagopus: a field experiment. J Anim Ecol 60:705–714Google Scholar
  4. Angerbjörn A, Tannerfeldt M, Bjärvall A, Ericson M, From J, Norén E (1995) Dynamics of the arctic fox population in Sweden. Ann Zool Fenn 32:55–68Google Scholar
  5. Angerbjörn A, Tannerfeldt M, Erlinge S (1999) Predatory-prey relationships: arctic foxes and lemmings. J Anim Ecol 68:34–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anthony RM, Flint PL, Sedinger JS (1991) Arctic fox removal improves nest success of black brant. Wildl Soc Bull 19:176–184Google Scholar
  7. Bakken V (2000) Seabird colony databases of the Barents Sea region and the Kara Sea. Report series no. 115, Norwegian Polar Institute, pp 78Google Scholar
  8. Bannikov AG (1970) Arctic fox in the U.S.S.R.: biological premises of productivity. In: Fuller WA, Kevan PG (eds) Proceedings of the Conference on Productivity and Conservation in Northern Circumpolar Lands, Edmonton, Canada 1969. IUCN Publications new series 16, pp 121–130Google Scholar
  9. Braestrup FW (1941) A study of the arctic fox in Greenland. Medd Groen 131:1–101Google Scholar
  10. Chitty H (1950) Canadian arctic wildlife enquiry, 1943–49; with a summary of results since 1933. J Anim Ecol 19:180–193Google Scholar
  11. Førland EJ (1993) Precipitation normals. Normal period 1961–1990. DNMI Report 39/93 Klima. Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  12. Frafjord K (1992) Behavioural ecology and behavioural energetics in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). PhD thesis, University of Bergen, Bergen, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  13. Frafjord K (1993) Food habits of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) on the western coast of Svalbard. Arctic 46:49–54Google Scholar
  14. Frafjord K, Prestrud P (1992) Home range and movements of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in Svalbard. Polar Biol 12:519–526Google Scholar
  15. Frafjord K, Rofstad G, Fuglei E (1997) Døde fjellrev-valper på Svalbard av sykdom? (Did arctic fox pups die due to some kind of sickness?) Fauna 50:108–113Google Scholar
  16. Fuglei E (2000) Physiological adaptation of the arctic fox to high Arctic conditions. Dr. Scient. dissertation, University of Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  17. Fuglei E, Øritsland NA (1999) Seasonal trends in body mass, food intake and resting metabolic rate, and induction of metabolic depression in arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) at Svalbard. J Comp Physiol B 169:361–369CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Fuglei E, Øritsland NA (2001) Energy cost of running in arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), on Svalbard, Norway. Poster presentation, First Canid Biology and Conversation Conference, Oxford University, 17–21 September 2001Google Scholar
  19. Fuglei E, Aanestad M, Berg JP (2000) Hormones and metabolites of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in response to season, starvation and re-feeding. Comp Biochem Physiol A 126:287–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hersteinsson P (1984) The behavioural ecology of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). PhD thesis. University of Oxford, Oxford, UKGoogle Scholar
  21. Larsen T, Kjos-Hanssen B (1983) Trichinella sp. in polar bears from Svalbard, in relation to hide length and age. Polar Res 1:89–96Google Scholar
  22. Loonen MJJE, Tombre IM, Mehlum F (1998) Development of an arctic barnacle goose colony: interactions between density and predation. In: Mehlum F, Black JM, Madsen J (eds) Research on arctic geese. Proceedings of the Svalbard Goose Symposium, Oslo, Norway, 23–26 September 1997. Norsk Polarinstitutt Skrifter 200, pp 67–79Google Scholar
  23. Macpherson AH (1969) The dynamics of Canadian arctic fox populations. Can Wildl Serv Rep Ser no. 8Google Scholar
  24. Øritsland NA, Alendal E (1986) Svalbardreinen. Bestandens størrelse og livshistorie (The Svalbard reindeer. Population size and life history). In: Øritsland NA (ed) Svalbardreinen og dens livsgrunnlag (The Svalbard reindeer and its resources). Oslo, Universitetsforlaget, pp 62–77Google Scholar
  25. Prestrud P (1982) Årstidsvariasjoner i basalmetabolisme og fettlagring hos fjellreven (Alopex lagopus) på Svalbard (Seasonal variation in basal metabolic rate and fat deposition in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) on Svalbard). Cand Real Thesis, University of Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  26. Prestrud P (1992a) Arctic foxes in Svalbard: population ecology and rabies. PhD thesis, Norsk Polarinstitutt, OsloGoogle Scholar
  27. Prestrud P (1992b) Food habits and observations of the hunting behaviour of arctic foxes, (Alopex lagopus), in Svalbard. Can Field Nat 106:225–236Google Scholar
  28. Prestrud P, Black JM, Owen M (1989) The relationship between an increasing Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) population and the number and size of colonies in Svalbard. Wildfowl 40:32–38Google Scholar
  29. Rossnes G (1993) Norsk overvintringsfangst på Svalbard 1895–1940. Meddelelser nr. 127, Norsk Polarinstitutt, OsloGoogle Scholar
  30. Samelius G, Alisauskas RT (2001) Deterring arctic fox predation: the role of parental nest attendance by lesser snow geese. Can J Zool 79:861–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smith TG (1976) Predation of ringed seal pups (Phoca hispida) by the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Can J Zool 54:1610–1616Google Scholar
  32. Stahl J, Loonen MJJE (1998) Effects of predation risk on site selection of barnacle geese during brood-rearing. In: Mehlum F, Black JM, Madsen J (eds) Research on arctic geese. Proceedings of the Svalbard Goose Symposium, Oslo, Norway, 23–26 September 1997. Norsk Polarinstitutt Skrifter 200, pp 57–65Google Scholar
  33. Tannerfeldt M, Angerbjörn A, Arvidson B (1994) The effect of summer feeding on juvenile arctic fox survival—a field experiment. Ecography 17:88–96Google Scholar
  34. Tombre IM, Mehlum F, Loonen MJJE (1998) The Kongsfjorden colony of barnacle geese: nest distribution and the use of breeding islands 1980–1997. In: Mehlum F, Black JM, Madsen J (eds) Research on arctic geese. Proceedings of the Svalbard Goose Symposium, Oslo, Norway, 23–26 September 1997. Norsk Polarinstitutt Skrifter 200, pp 57–65Google Scholar
  35. Wrigley RE, Hatch DRM (1976) Arctic fox migrations in Manitoba. Arctic 29:147–158Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eva Fuglei
    • 1
  • Nils Are Øritsland
    • 2
  • Pål Prestrud
    • 1
  1. 1.Norwegian Polar InstituteTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Outhere ASOsteraasNorway

Personalised recommendations