Friday, January 24, 2020
Island Foxes and Island Spotted Skunks
On two of the Channel Islands, island foxes share their ecosystem with island spotted skunks.
The island spotted skunk is smaller than the island fox, and even more elusive. Because the skunk is primarily nocturnal, few people encounter them and, until recently, little was known about them.
When the island fox faced near-extinction on Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands in 2000, people took note of the island spotted skunk for the first time. The first counting of island spotted skunks occurred when they were captured during island fox counting.
When the island fox population was low, the population of island spotted skunks soared. This gathering of spotted-skunk and island-fox cake pops, illustrates the overwhelming number of spotted skunks to island foxes.
By 2014, however, the foxes were overtaking the skunks in reproduction and survival; island fox numbers almost equaled the estimated number of spotted skunks. As island foxes continued to increase across Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands, the island spotted skunk population continued to decline dramatically. (Or at least, the number of island spotted skunks captured during island fox counting has declined.)
The gathering of cake pops–compiled by researchers Juliann Schamel and Angela Guglielmino–demonstrates how drastic the population shift has become.
What we don't know is: Why? Why have island spotted skunk numbers declined so much? What is the normal population relationship between these two species? Are island foxes out-competing island spotted skunks or is something else at play?
In the past few years, researchers have begun looking into the life and behavior of the island spotted skunk. FIF contributed support to researcher Ellie Boas to supply batteries for the first trap cameras that were put out to capture images of island spotted skunks. Researchers continue to try to capture images of island foxes and spotted skunks interacting, but it has been a challenge.
2020 opened with an important meeting of biologists, wildlife veterinarians, researchers, and invested organizations and institutions to pursue inquiry into the island spotted skunk. Following the example of the Island Fox Conservation Working Group and the successful conservation efforts for the island fox, the group will work to solve questions and develop action plans.
Friends of the Island Fox sends a resounding "Yip, Yip" to the newly formed Island Spotted Skunk Conservation Working Group.
May we all work together to understand the important relationship between these two unique island species.