Red fox Phylogeography

Introduction

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the most widely distributed terrestrial carnivore in the world, occurring throughout most of Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America in habitat conditions ranging from arctic tundra to temperate deserts (Lariviére and Pasitschniak-Arts 1996).  The most common coat colour is a red-brown with a distinct white tip at the end of the tail, and black on the back of the ears and on the lower legs.  There is considerable color and size variation within the species, for example red fox in the Middle East are typically a lighter color, which likely results in lower heat absorbance and possibly better camouflage (MacDonald et al. 1999).  In addition the Middle Eastern red fox is also considerably smaller when compared to its more northerly relatives and this may reflect lower food availability in more barren desert environments (MacDonald et al. 1999).  

Following on from our recent Phylogeographic Analysis of the North American red fox we are comparing North American and European populations to those from Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.  Although the red fox is one of the most common carnivores in these areas it is relatively little studied. 

The Project

We use red fox samples (tissue, blood, hair etc) to uncover the genetic relationship of red fox populations in different locations.  Our study on North American populations identified three distinct lineages of red fox in North America (Aubry et al. 2009).  These lineages were isolated in disjunct forest refugia during the last glacial period.  One of these lineages, mainly found in Alaska and Western Canada, is more closely related to populations in Eastern Siberia than to other North American populations.  This is best explained by the fact that during the last glacial maximum the red fox population in Alaska was separated from the rest of North America by an ice sheet.  While at the same time the sea level was lower, allowing the formation of a land bridge between Alaska and Eastern Siberia, facilitating animal movement between the two areas.  Results such as these can aid in understanding the evolutionary relationship between populations and how past climactic events have impacted modern populations.  

Our genetic analysis will answer many important conservation questions such as

(1) Is a population genetically distinct?

(2) If so does it require additional conservation effort?

(3) Is a population relatively inbred/outbred?

This will give an indication of the genetic health of the population. How are populations between two areas related?This can highlight areas of gene flow (animal movement) or barriers togene flow that might not be otherwise apparent.

A call for samples.We are seeking red fox samples (tissue, blood, hair etc) from throughout Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.  Please contact Mark Statham (statham@ucdavis.edu) for further information.   Any people/organizations we receive samples from will be appropriately acknowledged in resulting publications. 

International collaborators and sample donors
Jed Murdoch (Oxford University, UK), Eli Geffen (Tel Aviv University, Israel), Love Dalen (Stockholm University, Sweden) Tom Bailey (Dubai Falcon Hospital, United Arab Emirates). (Arman Ardalan, Royal Inst Technology, Sweden).

Collaborating museums and collections: National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution).

(top) Red fox skull, (bottom) Red fox pelts, photos M. Statham.