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Dispersal Patterns of Red Foxes Relative to Population Density


Red foxes are important to wildlife managers because of their recreational and fur value (Deems and Pursley 1978, Foner 1982), predation on game (Trautman et al. 1974, Sargeant et al. 1984) and poultry, and role in disease transmission (Voigt and Tinline 1982, Trewhella et al. 1988). Considerable effort has been expended to reduce local populations (e.g., Balser et al. 1968, Trautman et al. 1974). Red fox populations contain family groups that occupy well defined, largely non-overlapping territories (Sargeant 1972). Most families produce a litter of pups annually, and many pups disperse from the parental territory during their first year of life (Storm et al. 1976). Pils and Martin (1978) suggested that littermates may occasionally disperse together or follow similar routes. Storm et al. (1976) and Pils and Martin (1978) found that physical barriers such as rivers can affect dispersal directions. Dispersal is important in rebuilding depleted populations and in long-distance transmission of disease. Thus, this aspect of fox biology has received attention both in North America and Europe (Errington and Berry 1937, Marcstrom 1968, Jensen 1973, Storm et al. 1976, Pils and Martin 1978). The effects of red fox population density on dispersal patterns, however, are largely undetermined.

During 1969-73 we tagged red fox pups at dens annually in a 3-county area of eastern North Dakota where the fox population on 6 study townships increased from 0.05 fox families/km2 in 1969 to 0.14 families/km2 in 1973 (Allen and Sargeant 1975, Sargeant et al. 1975). Herein, we evaluate dispersal patterns of tagged foxes from this population. We examine effects of population density on dispersal distances and on the proportion of foxes recovered that had dispersed. Additionally, we evaluate dispersal direction among littermates and the effect of a 4-lane interstate highway on dispersal direction.

This work is a contribution from North Dakota Game and Fish Department Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Project W-67-R and Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. We appreciate the assistance of D. T. Allen, L. E. Eberhardt, R. T. Eberhardt, E. K. Fritzell, C. R. Grondahl, T. C. Hendrickson, W. H. Howell, R. E. Nelson, C. M. Pfeifer, W. K. Pfeifer, H. T. Upgren, and J. F. Wolf in various phases of field work; of J. F. Gulke, D. H. Johnson, K. M. Kraft, R. C. Khan-Malek, W. E. Newton, and T. L. Shaffer for computer services and data analysis; and of R. J. Greenwood, M. A. Sovada, and L. L. Strong for manuscript review.

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