(Thank you to our guest blogger University of Southern California graduate student Nicole Adams)
Besides being adorable, why should we care about the island fox?
Fortunately, rigorous captive breeding programs were swiftly and effectively put in place to save the foxes from sure extinction on some of the islands. Island fox estimates as of 2014 show substantial population recovery. A conservation success story! This is great news for the stability of the Channel Island ecosystem, but should we declare victory and stop worrying about the foxes?
|photo courtesy of Kevin Schaffer|
Foxes are continually facing health threats such as those caused by introduced species. Known health concerns in the island fox populations include a number of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that cause diseases. On Catalina, earmites in the foxes often lead to ear tumors. And a new pathogen, a spiny worm, is currently causing fox fatalities on San Miguel.
It is difficult to know when another outbreak like the one on Santa Catalina Island will occur, what the next pathogen will be, or how much genetic diversity will be lost. So it’s important that the fox populations are monitored for the presence of known pathogens and the emergence of new ones. Monitoring for pathogens can be easily done by non-invasive sampling, which allows useful animal material to be collected while causing the least amount of stress on the animal. Therefore, I am monitoring pathogens in fox populations by collecting scat samples, a smelly but non-invasive sampling technique.
|Catalina Island fox sitting next to its deposited specimen at USC's Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies; Photo courtesy of Nicole Adams|
|USC undergraduate assistant, Lauren Stoneburner, weighing out island fox scat for DNA extraction. Photo courtesy of Nicole Adams|
The complex population history, combined with ongoing health issues, contribute to the need for conservation of the island foxes. I look forward to sharing my results and conclusions and potentially informing the management practice of these curious critters.
Nicole Adams is a Graduate Student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA.
More Research Regarding Island Foxes: