Intern Blogs

Ecological Role of Foxes

By: Tavian Campbell

While foxes have been labeled as pests and enemies of man in many settings, they play an important role in maintaining ecosystem health. A healthy ecosystem exists when there is a balance amongst its constituents. An entire system could collapse following the absence of just one species. 

Many foxes exhibit carnivorous behavior, such as the Tibetan Sand Fox, the Simien Fox, and the Kit Fox, feeding on small prey such as rodents, insects, and reptiles. This feeding behavior keeps prey populations under control. Without the presence of predation these species could grow to dangerous levels that can overwhelm and deplete the resources of an ecosystem. This phenomenon can have a cascading effect, resulting in the disruption and erasure of many other species. Due to the risk of this phenomenon, the presence of carnivores like the fox is necessary for the balance of the food web and ecological systems. 

The regulation of small, predominantly herbivorous, species provides benefits to plant communities as well by preventing the occurrence of overgrazing. Some foxes have frugivorous tendencies, meaning they consume fruit, this type of feeding behavior aids plants via seed dispersal. Pampas foxes, Sechuran foxes, and Swift foxes have all been identified as omnivores who occasionally eat fruit. The seeds are transported to other areas via fox excrement, allowing plants to take roots in other areas with little effort. The burrowing activity performed by Arctic, Red, and Desert foxes can serve as homes for other animals such as marmots, rabbits, badgers, and other foxes. By digging their dens foxes may also benefit soil productivity by aerating the soil. 

In a more urban context, the predation of rodents serves as a form of pest control, such as decreasing the abundance of rats in city areas. In rural communities foxes feed heavily on rodents and other animals that can be considered pests to farmers’ crops including fawns with impressive breeding capacities like the muntjac in Britain. Red foxes specifically are linked to studies that purport the foxes’ predation on rodents prevents the spreading of Lyme disease attributed to wild tick populations. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in the United States. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged deer ticks. Healthy fox populations generate a benefit for public health by decreasing the population of infected rodents, limiting the chances of public contact with infected ticks.

Foxes also provide food chain balance by serving as competition to other predators, thereby presenting population control to other carnivores. Foxes provide balance to other carnivores by providing them energy. Common predators of foxes include coyotes, wolves, wild dogs, other foxes, and aerial predators like owls, eagles, and other large raptors.

Some species of fox such as the Bengal and Blanford’s foxes are generally not fearful of humans. While this may leave them vulnerable to human traps and violence, their lack of aversion to humans may serve as a means to increase our understanding of these animals and other similar species. Being able to observe and interact in close proximity with these animals may present many opportunities to conduct research and develop coexistence projects.

All animals in this world provide some balance to natural systems. Due to the important role fox species play globally, preserving them is crucial to ecosystem survival. If humans wish to continue to benefit from nature’s gifts we must continue to protect ALL of its inhabitants.

Celebration Days

National Endangered Species Day

National Endangered Species Day

Today is National Endangered Species Day! 

Take a moment today to think about the #EndangeredSpecies across the globe. National Endangered Species Day is the third Friday in May and is a day to share the importance of wildlife conservation and restoration. 

In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was passed. The ESA is key legislation for both domestic and international conservation efforts by providing a framework to protect endangered and threatened species, as well as their habitats. The ESA helps the USA meet its international obligations under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Western Hemisphere Convention. 

Some endangered species of foxes include the San Joaquin kit fox, a subspecies of the Kit fox which is listed as endangered on the US endangered species list and the Santa Catalina Island fox which is currently only listed as threatened. Other species like the Darwin’s Fox and Simien fox are considered Endangered by the ICUN. While not all species of foxes are considered threatened or endangered, they are all important members of the global ecosystem. 

Read below to learn more about a vulnerable species who has yet to receive any protections:

Many species that need protections are not covered under the US ESA including the Sierra Nevada Red fox, a subspecies of the Red fox. Although the Red fox is well-known and widespread, this subspecies which is genetically and geographically distinct from other red foxes are some of the rarest mammals in North America. This subspecies is limited to two small populations in California that may consist of less than 50 individuals. After reaching a legal agreement in 2013 with the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish & Wildlife Service was required to make a decision regarding protecting the fox by 2015. The US Fish & Wildlife Service only added the species to a candidate waiting list and has still failed to provide any protections.

Photo credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Habitat Destruction and its Effects on the Ecosystem

Habitat Destruction and its Effects on the Ecosystem

By: Xaz-Leighnne Jacobe

Elimination of the conditions necessary for animals and plants to survive, not only impacts the individual species but the global ecosystem. As it is to all wildlife, one of the most disastrous threats foxes face is habitat loss. Destroying habitats negatively impacts the global ecosystem. Loss of habitat is primarily caused by humans through deforestation — to make way for buildings or agriculture. This can sometimes push foxes to neighboring suburban areas, where they may encounter increased human-wildlife conflicts or be hit by vehicles while finding new shelter.

The increase of foxes in suburban areas may increase the need for them to be hunted or trapped because they are often perceived as pests. Although fox populations, especially the red fox, as generally stable, affecting habitats impacts the ecosystem as a whole. Foxes help control rodents and rabbits and also help disperse seeds. Therefore, decreasing fox numbers would increase the population of the animals they prey on and plant biodiversity would decline.

Humane Fox Deterrents:

One of the main reasons why foxes are detested is because they disturb crops and livestock. A humane way of keeping foxes off property would be to install fencing that foxes cannot jump over or dig under. There are also chemical deterrence sprays which have the effect of making foxes believe a larger or stronger fox has moved into the area. Motion-activated sprinklers can deter foxes by shooting out a jet of water and ultrasonic fox deterrents are also available.

Meet the author:

Xaz is in her final year at Liverpool John Moore University earning her LLB. Her interest in fox protection began during her “Animal Welfare and the Law” module, which inspired her to undertake research on how we can help foxes.

Photo Credit: “Carjacking” by Mary Lee Agnew with permission

Celebration Days

World Wildlife Day

World Wildlife Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 as a way to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. March 3 was selected since it was the signature day of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973.

The theme of the 2021 World Wildlife Day is Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet. This theme was selected to highlight the importance that forest ecosystems and species play in the lives of hundreds of millions of people globally. This theme also supports some of the UN sustainable development goals and their promises to ensure sustainable use of resources and land conservation.

There are a number of fox species listed in the CITES appendices. The Blanford’s fox, Andean fox, Darwin’s fox, South American gray fox, Pampas fox, Crab-eating fox, and Fennec fox are all listed in Appendix II and the Bengal fox and three subspecies of red fox found in India are listed in Appendix III.