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

Original Paper

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Herschel Island Population trends Vulpes lagopus Vulpes vulpes Climate warming Yukon 

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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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