Friday, July 17, 2020

Good News for Island Foxes From Tick-Testing Research

tick on island fox's lower eye lid
When can you put the words "tick" and "good news" in the same sentence? When test results come back negative!

In 2017, the occurrence of Lyme disease, and a related tick-borne disease, on a few Channel Islands raised concerns for island foxes and people. Working with the Catalina Island Conservancy and Channel Islands National Park, Friends of the Island Fox received a grant from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo Wildlife Conservation Fund to investigate parasites threatening island fox health.

tick sample ready to go to the lab

small tick on the back of island fox ear
Throughout the summer and fall of 2018, tick samples were collected from island foxes on Catalina Island by CIC biologists. These samples went to Northern Arizona University for analysis. 

A total of 159 ticks (mostly western black-legged ticks, Ixodes pacificus) were analyzed and NONE were found to be carrying Lyme disease (Borrelia spp. burgdorferi) or Anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum).

This is fantastic news for island foxes and for people visiting Catalina. The finding also provides a baseline for the future in case an occurrence of either disease occurs on Catalina Island.

Research and data-based conservation is keeping island foxes safe. Your donations help FIF advance scientific knowledge about island foxes and their ecosystem.

Friends of the Island Fox is accepting applications for our 
2020 Research Grant through August 31, 2020. 

For more information and an application form

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Island Fox Goes to Virtual Camp

Summer 2020, camp is going virtual.


The Humane Society of Ventura County is trying something completely new, their "Animal Adventure Camp" will be on-line this summer. It's a bold initiative and Friends of the Island Fox is happy to join HSVC as their "Wildlife Wednesday" guest during the Camp's second week. 
 

Campers will learn about the island fox's successful recovery and see new images of island foxes in the wild. They'll explore the island fox’s senses and investigate if being a little bit more like a fox might improve our senses. Campers will also have the opportunity to become Island Fox Ambassadors by working on a service learning project. 

Friends of the Island Fox and the Humane Society of Ventura County share a common mission. Vaccinating pets protects them from disease, while also protecting island foxes and other wildlife.

HSVC's "Animal Adventure Camp" is FREE, but openings are limited. For more information and registration: https://www.hsvc.org/animal_adventure_camp_now_at_home

FIF will visit with HSVC campers on June 24, 2020. 

FIF is reaching out into the virtual learning space, contact us as admin@islandfox.org

Friday, May 29, 2020

Fox Foto Friday - From Refurb to Rome


You've given these radio collars new life and now they are headed to ROME!

Friends of the Island Fox and The Nature Conservancy are working together. FIF funded the refurbishment of 10 radio collars for Santa Cruz Island in 2020. The collars were finished last week and now they are on their way to Rome, Italy, where TNC is having them fitted with specialized accelerometers. 

This additional technology will enable researchers to get a more accurate picture of island fox movements on a daily basis. 

How much of an island fox's time is spent looking for food? How much of their day is spent inactive? What time of day are island foxes most active?

These specialized radio collars will be fitted on island foxes this summer on Santa Cruz Island.

Your donations made these radio collars possible. Working together we can build our knowledge of island fox behavior and help to keep them safe in a changing world.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Fox Foto Monday - FIF Research Grant


How does island fox density impact territory size? 

Does island fox lifespan vary by island? 

How do recent genetic bottlenecks echo through current island fox populations? 

There is so much we don't know. 
What will you discover about island foxes?

Friends of the Island Fox is accepting applications for our 
2020 Research Grant through August 31, 2020. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Gathering Specimens For Island Fox Tooth Research

In 2019 Friends of the Island Fox supported a research project investigating whether cementum ring structures in teeth could be used to accurately determine island fox age at death. Research Project by Stacy Baker and Juliann Schamel.

Baker and Schamel updated us on their progress mid-March 2020.

"We went up to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History last week to collect teeth from the first seven skulls that they are processing for their collection," Schamel wrote in mid-March. An additional five skulls have since been processed.


The researchers explained that the island fox skulls came from Dr. Leslie Woods and the CA Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at UC Davis, which is responsible for conducting necropsies on island foxes when they die on the Channel Islands. These specimens are vital for biologists to understand cause of death, as well as underlying health problems. When an island fox dies, a necropsy (similar to an autopsy for a human) examines organs and tissues in detail to understand the cause of death. Necropsies are vital to identifying disease or any other threat, which might endanger other island foxes. The bodies of these individual animals are stored in special freezers at UC Davis to preserve tissue samples for future scientific investigations, like the tooth project.

During the final stages of the preservation process, cleaned skulls are soaked in cold water for several days. The researchers explain that "At that point in the process, the teeth are very loose and easy to pull out..." A single lower canine tooth was extracted from each skull. Once all of the skulls have been processed, Schamel added, "I think we will be ready to send all the teeth to Matson's Laboratory in Montana!"

See Mike Watling's story for more on how each tooth will be processed.

The plot below shows how fox age estimated by tooth wear does not always match-up with actual island fox age.


We know the actual age of island foxes that are micro-chipped as pups. Biologists performing health checks in the field, however, do not have access to this age information when they are examining individual foxes. They estimate the fox's age by the amount of wear on its teeth. This estimate puts the fox in one of five categories: 
  • Age Class 0 - pup to 1 year
  • Age Class 1 - young adult
  • Age Class 2 - adult
  • Age Class 3 - mature adult
  • Age Class 4 - senior
The plot above shows data from 1300 exams of island foxes compared with their known ages. The larger the dot the more individuals fell into each category. The more you examine this plot the more you will see. For example: a 4-year-old island fox was almost as likely to be estimated as Age Class 3 as Age Class 2. A few 4-year-olds were estimated as Age Class 1 or Age Class 4. What do you see in the plot for island foxes that are 6 years old? Is tooth wear a reliable way to estimate island fox age? 

This data shows why the cementum research is so important. Island foxes live longer and eat a different diet from the southeastern gray foxes for which the tooth-wear age classes were originally designed.


This project also highlights the broad scientific community involved in researching island foxes. Biologists from Channel Islands National Park are working with the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, UC Davis, and Matson's Laboratory in Montana, which specializes in cementum age analysis of mammal teeth. Science brings people together.

As this research project moves forward FIF will keep you updated on the findings. Scientific data is vital to making informed conservation decisions that maintain sustainable populations of island foxes.

Friends of the Island Fox invites biologists, ecologists, and other researchers to contribute to our understanding of island foxes. Applications for the FIF Research Grant 2020 are now available.

The island fox cementum analysis research project was made possible through a donation from Safari West.

Your Donations Help Make Research Possible 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

On-Line Earth Day Event Sunday April 26th


2020 marks the 50th celebration of Earth Day. Connect and engage with the Channel Islands online. Join Friends of the Island Fox, Channel Islands Restoration and Channel Islands National Park on Sunday, April 26, 2020, from 3:00 - 5:00 pm PST for a special live event.

3-4 pm -- How we are working together to help the planet
Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands Restoration, and Friends of the Island Fox will share their organizational mission, updates on their work, and home activities.

4-5 pm -- Virtual Earth Day presentations
CIR:  Why supporting our native ecosystem is important, using local examples and biofacts 
FIF:   Island fox recovery, status, and current threats … what you can do to help.
NPS: Biofact exploration, introduction to educational programs available online.

Please RSVP through EventBrite here: 

Check this link for how to join an hour before the event: 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Friends of the Island Fox Research Grant 2020


Friends of the Island Fox is currently accepting applications for the 2020 FIF Research Grant


The mission of Friends of the Island Fox (FIF) is to bring together conservation professionals and concerned private citizens to create public awareness about the island fox and to raise funds to support education, research, and conservation measures to ensure the island fox's survival and protect its island home.
 
In 2020, Friends of the Island Fox is making $5,000 available in grant funding to researchers working on projects that align with our mission.


Applications will be accepted through August 31, 2020. Recipients will be notified September 28, 2020.

The more we know about island foxes, the safer their future will be.



Previous FIF Research Grant Recipients

2018: "The Channel Island Food Web–A Decade of Dietary Resource Use in Channel Island Fox: Implications for Reproduction, Recruitment, and Resilience in a Changing Climate." - Juliann Schamel, 2019 Update

2019:
  1. "A Decade of Seasonal Dietary Resource Use in Channel Island Fox: Implications for Reproduction, Recruitment, and Resilience in a Changing Climate." - Juliann Schamel
  2. "Assessing Cementum Annulation in teeth for determining age at death." - Stacy Baker and Juliann Schamel

Your donations to Friends of the Island Fox

help make this research grant possible

Friday, April 03, 2020

Mites, Microbes, and Cancer in Santa Catalina Island Foxes by Alexandra DeCandia

(Thank you to our guest blogger Alexandra DeCandia a doctoral candidate at Princeton University)

Over the last few decades, we've realized that organisms are far more complicated than they initially appear. What may look like an individual fox is actually an ecosystem containing trillions of microorganisms on every square inch. [Figure 1]

Despite their tiny size, microbes influence important host functions, such as development, digestion, stress tolerance, behavior, and even immunity. Therefore learning more about these hidden actors can inform wildlife conservation of at-risk species in the modern molecular era.

Looking into the ear canal of an island fox.
Microbes may be particularly important to species that lack genetic diversity, such as Channel Island foxes, especially where disease threatens long-term persistence. On Santa Catalina Island, scientists discovered extremely high rates of ear canal tumors, where roughly half of adult foxes have growths in their ears. Although the exact cause is unknown, researchers linked ear mite infection to tumor growth and development. The most prominent hypothesis states that infection with ear mites leads to inflammation and rampant cell growth in the ear canal, which in turn leads to tumors. Thankfully, treating foxes with the acaricide Ivermectin has already decreased mite burdens and tumor rates in these foxes.

However, there's more to this story. We still don't fully understand how mite infection leads to tumor growth. In particular, my collaborators and I wondered whether microbes play a role in this system. For example, do mites disrupt healthy microbes and cause secondary bacterial infections? And do those infections then contribute to the chronic inflammation that precedes tumor growth?

Figure 2: Island fox is swabbed during health check
To address these questions, my collaborators at the Catalina Island Conservancy collected microbe samples by swabbing ear canals (and a few other body sites) of healthy and mite-infected foxes. [Figure 2] (This process is similar to cleaning your ears with a cotton swab, except you don't throw away the swab afterwards.) Once a bunch of foxes were swabbed, all samples were sent to New Jersey, where I extracted DNA, collected genetic sequences, and analyzed the data.

 The results came back loud and clear: microbes differed between mite-infected and uninfected ear canals. Rather than a rich community of diverse microbes (as seen in healthy ears), mite-infected ear canals had fewer microbial species present. We further found that the balance of microbes (know as "relative abundance") differed between infection groups.  [Figure 3]

Figure 3: Classes of bacteria found in swab samples
As it turned out, this pattern was almost entirely driven by an overabundance of one bacterial species: Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (Class: Bacilli, shown in brown in Figure 3).

Even though this microbe is commonly found on canid species (such as domestic dogs and foxes), it can become an opportunistic pathogen when healthy communities are disrupted. Once it proliferates, it can be incredibly difficult for the immune system or even antibiotics to eradicate, leading to chronic inflammation.

We now hypothesize that mite infection and secondary bacterial infection with Staphylococcus pseudintermedius contribute to chronic inflammation and tumor growth in Santa Catalina Island foxes. 

Photo courtesy of Glenn Jensen
Although further tests are needed to definitively establish causation, these insights into the microbial dynamics of mite infection can help us monitor the population for antibiotic resistant forms of Staphylococcus pseudintermedius that could cause a disease outbreak. They can further help us explore other open questions, such as why Santa Catalina Island foxes are the only subspecies with ear canal tumors, despite ear mites on other islands. As always in science, answers lead to more questions. But at least one thing is clear: there's more to this story (and indeed, to all organisms) than what initially meets the eye.  

Alexandra DeCandia, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.

Read the full paper: Ear mite infection is associated with altered microbial communities in genetically depauperate Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae)

More Research Regarding Island Foxes:
More 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fox Foto Friday - Meeting Up Island Fox Style


Island fox or human, it can be tricky to get to know someone new right now. A wildlife trap camera on Santa Rose Island captured these images of two island foxes meeting on a pathway.

A quick sniff can tell an island fox a lot about another fox. The female on the left is figuring out if she knows this male. Has she detected his scent before or is he a newcomer to her area? She can evaluate his health and what he's been eating in a sniff.

The two island foxes also communicate to each other through their physical stance. Tail and ears up - she is being friendly. Head down and tail at a medium height, he is letting her take the lead.


Both of these island foxes look healthy and well fed. Notice the female is also wearing a radio-tracking collar. Biological technicians on the islands are monitoring this female island fox. During summer counting, we may learn whether or not this meeting led to pups. 

Island foxes know all about epidemic disease. COVID-19 does not impact dogs or island foxes, but other viruses are a serious threat to them. Find out more about the current threat from canine distemper.

Island foxes on Catalina Island survived a catastrophic epidemic from 1998–2000.   

Monday, February 17, 2020

Distemper Virus on the Rise in California Winter 2020

Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Deana Clifford, a longtime island fox advocate and member of the Island Fox Conservation Working Group, was on the radio for the US Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) warning about the rise of canine distemper virus in California this winter.

2019 was a good year for wildlife, including island foxes. On the mainland, raccoon, striped skunk, and gray fox populations have all increased. (The gray fox is the ancestor of the island fox.) State wildlife agencies are also seeing an increase of canine distemper virus (CDV) among these species. Distemper is the dog equivalent of measles–it impacts the neurological and respiratory system, is highly contagious, and can be deadly to pet dogs and wild animals.

The collapse of the Santa Catalina Island fox population in 1998 was caused by a wild raccoon carrying CDV that was transported to the island. The introduction of distemper from this one raccoon nearly wiped out the Catalina Island fox.

island fox being vaccinated
Ideally, between 100 and 300 island foxes are vaccinated against CDV and rabies on each island. This ensures that if an introduction of distemper occurs at least a minimal number of island foxes might survive. Distemper is highly fatal among island foxes. On Santa Cruz Island, it means 100 would survive, but approximately 2,000 island foxes would perish. 

island fox with a radio-tracking collar
Introduced disease is the primary threat to island fox survival. This is why monitoring is so important and why FIF helps fund radio collars and health checks.

The USFWS and Friends of the Island Fox urge you to 
protect your pets, wildlife, and the island fox

Vaccinate your pets against the canine distemper virus (CDV).