Tuesday, October 20, 2020

FIF Research Grant to Investigate Diversity of Island Fox Microbiome


Friends of the Island Fox is happy to announce Alexandra DeCandia, Ph.D. is the recipient of FIF's 2020 Research Grant.

You may remember DeCandia's article from April 2020 regarding her doctoral work at Princeton University: Mites, Microbes, and Cancer in Santa Catalina Island Foxes. Microbes can be found on the skin, in the digestive system, and in connection with the body's openings.

A healthy animal has a diversity of microbes. In this way, a single island fox is like an island. If something should happen to the biodiversity of microbes on an individual, the ecosystem on that individual might become out of balance. Some microbes might thrive, while others perish. An imbalance of microbes can impact an animal's overall health.

When island foxes on a specific island go through a near-extinction population bottleneck, there is a potential for a loss of microbe diversity that can be passed on to surviving island foxes. 

DeCandia investigated if there was a connection between the diversity of microbes on Catalina Island foxes and an unusual prevalence of cancer in this subspecies.

Looking into island fox ear canal

What she found was "evidence of disrupted microbial communities in mite-infected ear canals that may contribute to sustained inflammation." Inflammation can play a role in cancer and this microbial imbalance may be connected to why Santa Catalina Island foxes are the only island foxes known to develop cancerous tumors in their ear canals.

DeCandia's work was published in Molecular Ecology and when she presented her findings at the Annual Island Fox Conservation Working Group Meeting in May of this year, everyone was intrigued. A healthy microbial biome is vital to healthy digestion, immune response to disease, behavior, and even development. Because island foxes on five islands have been through population bottlenecks, where the number of surviving individuals was very low, there is a potential that island foxes on other islands may have disrupted microbial communities as well.

As island foxes are counted and given health checks across the islands this year, they are also getting swabbed for microbes in their ear canals and at their anuses. DeCandia describes the process as "similar to cleaning your ears with a cotton swab, except you don't throw away the swab afterwards." The swab samples will be sent to DeCandia at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C.

 

 

DeCandia in the lab

FIF Research Grant funding will be used to extract DNA samples and process DNA sequencing to identify the various microbes in island fox ear canals and digestive systems. 

This investigation provides a unique opportunity to do comparative analyses between subspecies of island foxes on different islands. DeCandia hopes to:

  1. survey variation of microbes within island foxes on each island
  2. characterize the differences between islands
  3. identify the drivers of ear canal tumors on Santa Catalina Island

This work is at the cutting edge of science and may have important consequences for the long term survival of the island fox.

If you are an FIF donor, 

you are making this important work possible.

 

If you haven't donated yet, Please Donate 

This is Science, For Fox Sake!


 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Remember This Fox Face? - Fox Foto Day

 Do you remember this island fox face? 

 

This is F257–a female island fox on Santa Rosa Island. She first started wearing a radio-tracking collar (funded by FIF) last December when she was captured as a youngster.

In 2020, F257 is 18 months old and a mature female. It surprised everyone when she was caught in the exact same place she was found last year. This means she didn't disperse, or travel away, from her parents' territory.

It is typically expected that island fox pups will move away to find their own territory as they mature. Female offspring sometimes stay close to their parent's territory and that seems to be what F257 is doing.

She is looking healthy and happy in her territory adjacent to the coastline.

Friends of the Island Fox sends a "Hello" and "Thank You" to the biologists working across the Channel Islands. They are finishing up health checks and annual island fox counting. FIF is hearing good news from the field. Individual island foxes look healthy and populations appear stable.

Radio collars, like the one F257 is wearing, provide an important conservation monitoring system that provides an early alert system regarding threats to island foxes.

Your donations help to fund radio-tracking collars for island foxes.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Friends of the Island Fox Welcomes New Board Member: Lara Brenner


Friends of the Island Fox is thrilled to welcome Lara Brenner to its Board of Directors.

Lara is a wildlife biologist and scientific writer who has been working with island foxes on Santa Catalina and Santa Cruz Island since 2017. She has a degree in Environmental Studies from Carleton College and a Master of Science in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana.

FIF worked with Lara on the testing of ticks on Catalina Island and efforts to slow down traffic to save island foxes from being hit by vehicles.

She brings the unique experience of working with island foxes in the field.

Lara says: Compared to most mesocarnivores, island foxes are a joy to work with. Their relative docility takes a lot of the uncertainty out of catching and handling them, while their curiosity and fearlessness inspire some truly cheeky behaviors (like trying to steal a bag of bait right out of your hand!).

First-time observers are often amazed to see an island fox sitting calmly on a biologist's lap with few restraints, and I've often heard the comment that they must know we're trying to help them. 

I think it's more an artifact of evolution - after around 10,000 years as the apex land predator, they have no concept that they could be in any danger from a larger mammal! Of course, island foxes are still wild animals and it doesn't pay to let your guard down. I wouldn't want to reach into a cage without my trusty leather gloves - a bite from an island fox is no joke!

FIF Welcomes Lara Brenner.

[What's a mesocarnivore? A medium-sized carnivore. (Think raccoon, bobcat, gray fox or feral cat.) Most medium-sized predators have to be feisty in order to catch their prey and also defend themselves from larger predators.]

Friday, August 28, 2020

Fox Foto Friday - It's Research

 It's Research For Fox Sake!

 

This is an up close image of tiny bits of island fox whisker in a mini aluminum specimen holder. The micro-sample of whisker is on it's way to a mass spectrometer for analysis. Find out more about Juliann Schamel's research project with FIF.

The deadline to apply for FIF's 2020 Research Grant is August 31, 2020. 

Grant Application information

We're looking for research to support!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Celebrating the Successful Recovery of the Island Fox

Once on the brink of extinction, the island fox now roams freely across the Channel Islands. It's a conservation success story. On the four-year anniversary of the official U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announcement removing the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) from the Endangered Species List (ESL), foxes are stable in number and overall health.

Official numbers reported at May 2020 IFC  Working Group

In spite of the fact that this remarkable recovery is still celebrated today, conservation work is never completely done. Island foxes remain a conservation-reliant species. Threats still exist to the foxes from parasites, viruses, and human impacts as the islands are visited more and more each year. Keeping island foxes safe and healthy requires understanding of their diet, reproduction, lifespan, behavior, and disease threats.

On-going research doesn't just benefit the island fox. The lessons learned help other rare species as well. The Sierra Nevada red fox is benefiting from viable population modes that were developed for island foxes on Catalina. While not a one-to-one relationship, it is a reference that provides related information for another fox's demographic needs. It's science for Fox sake!

 

The power of partnership and focus can realize dramatic results and we have to look no farther than the group of islands off the Southern California coast. Today each spring fox kits are born as helpless little beings that would not survive without their parent's constant attention. In the course of six short months these tiny helpless creatures grow into self-sufficient cinnamon, gray, and black-colored predators that leave their birth den and seek out their own piece of the island. Those long summer days spent with their parents learning fox philosophy ensure the cycle, inherent in the fox's life, completes itself for the continued survival of the island fox. - Mike Watling

Friends of the Island Fox celebrates the recovery and continued success of the island fox with all of our donors, Island Fox Ambassadors, volunteers, and partners, especially:

Friends of the Island Fox is accepting applications for our 2020 FIF Research Grant through August 31, 2020. More info and application

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