Foxes – Ecology and sociality
The red fox Vulpes vulpes is found over much of the planet, and with a degree of ecological flexibility which is closely linked to its dietary breadth. Exploration of fox ecology, made possible by advances in technology beginning in the 1970s, has revealed how the sociology of foxes is considerably more complex than was previously thought, and how that complexity is related to their food resource ecology. Foxes live in territories with marked boundaries, most often in pairs where resources are scarce and widely dispersed. But where resources are both abundant and aggregated, family groups occur. In rural Oxfordshire, these family groups consist of a dominant breeding pair with several non-breeding vixens. The sub-dominant vixens assist with feeding and guarding of cubs. Urban foxes have a similar social system, but less stable territories, probably because the urban environment is hazardous and less predictable. Territories are configured to include resource-rich habitats, and even adjacent territories can be comprised of very different habitat types. Patchier territories tend to be smaller. Scat analysis shows variation in territory structure is reflected in very varied diets, and that diet tracks the seasonal abundance of different food sources. At small spatial scales foxes can optimize their use of food patches, and also time their activity to coincide with maximum availability. The extraordinary plasticity of fox ecology complicates attempts to manage them, either to protect stock or for disease control.
David W. Macdonald
Paul J. Johnson
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