Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Island Foxes and Beach Foods

In 2018 Juliann Schamel was the recipient of Friends of the Island Fox's first Research Grant. Her investigation of island fox diet through stable isotopes in whiskers has evolved and deepened to look for connections between diet and surviving drought conditions. 

In 2019 FIF continued to fund Schamel's research as she followed the foxes and the potential of "beach foods" in their diet. It is no coincidence that the island fox above is in a beach area. 

If you look closely at the pile of kelp washed up on the beach, or "beach wrack," you'll see island fox foot prints all around it.

photo courtesy of Nick Schooler, UCSB
Combining her stable isotope research with collaborators at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Schamel has revealed that some island foxes are making use of food resources connected to sandy beaches. Tiny arthropods called "beach hoppers" live in the sand and emerge to eat the kelp that washes up on the beach. Look closely and you will see a group of them feeding on the edge of the kelp blade pictured. 

Some island foxes are eating these tiny, quick moving creatures. If you've turned over a clump of beach wrack and seen little hopping critters, commonly referred to as sand fleas, you've seen beach hoppers. They are not fleas at all; they are more closely related to shrimp.

Juliann Schamel recently presented a poster at the 2022 Wildlife Society Conference. POSTER

And her paper Diet of a threatened endemic fox reveals variation in sandy beach resource use on California Channel Islands with Henry M. Page, Marine Science Institute, UCSB, et. al. was published in PLOS ONE. Read the Paper

Your support for FIF helped fund this important research. The island fox and the beach hopper demonstrate an intertwining of terrestrial and marine ecosystems on the Channel Islands.