Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) at their expanding front in the Canadian Arctic have indigenous maternal ancestry
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) expanded its distribution over large parts of the Canadian Arctic during the twentieth century and is now considered a threat to the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Some authors have proposed that the European red fox, introduced in Eastern North America during the eighteenth century, may have spread and caused the species’ expansion in the Arctic. Assessing the biological origin of red foxes in the Nearctic is critical to determine whether their presence constitutes a case of an invading exotic species. We analyzed genetic material obtained from four red foxes at Herschel Island (Yukon) and Bylot Island (Nunavut), at the northern expanding front of the species. Samples from Bylot provide the northernmost genetic information on red fox obtained worldwide. We identified mitochondrial DNA haplotypes in red foxes from both Arctic locations that were phylogenetically divergent from those in Eurasia, but shared with neighboring indigenous North American populations. Thus, our results indicate that the twentieth century expansion of red foxes in the Canadian Arctic involved nearby populations potentially benefiting from habitat changes, rather than an exotic species invading new habitats.
KeywordsGenetics Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeography Species expansion Vulpes lagopus Vulpes vulpes
We thank the field assistants who collected samples, Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park and Sirmilik National Park of Canada for allowing us to do the field work, and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. This study was supported by (alphabetical order): Aurora Research Institute, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canada Research Chairs, Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Network of Centers of Excellence of Canada ArcticNet, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Parks Canada Agency, Polar Continental Shelf Program, and Université du Québec à Rimouski.
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