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Biology 130: Methods in Field Biology

Field Technique:  Channel Island Kit Fox Behavior

Behavior Analysis using direct observation requires a knowledge of the potential ehaviors and choice of the appropriate technique to decrease bias and allow for comparison.

Here are 3 papers that describe observational methods to record behavior:

Some papers and info specific to the Island Fox:


Island Kit Fox
(Island Fox, Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Adam Green)


From the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

The Island Fox is considered to be a habitat generalist because it has been found using virtually all habitat types occurring on the Channel Islands (Coonan et al. 2010a, USFWS 2012). Use of diverse habitats likely is a function of ecological plasticity, limited predation and competition pressures, and characteristic high fox densities. Habitats used include beaches, sand dunes, bluffs, grasslands, sage scrub, cactus scrub, chaparral, oak woodlands, riparian woodlands, pine forests, marshes, and developed areas (e.g., towns, campgrounds). However, preferential use of some habitats has been detected. Island Foxes may prefer stabilized sand dunes (Sanchez and Hudgens 2012, Gregory et al. 2012, Garcelon and Hudgens 2012) and areas with higher topographic and vegetation structure diversity (USFWS 2012) such as shrublands and woodlands (Laughrin 1977, Crooks and Van Vuren 1996, Roemer 1999, Drake 2013). Conversely, some habitats appear to be used less, particularly types with low vegetation structure such as grasslands (Roemer 1999, Roemer and Wayne 2003). 

Home range use by Island Foxes is influenced by various factors including topographic features, available habitat types, habitat-specific resource abundance, fox density, sex, and age (USFWS 2012). Mean home range sizes of 0.16-3.39 km² have been reported (Coonan et al. 2010a, Sanchez 2012, Drake 2013)  Size generally is inversely related to fox density (Sanchez 2012) and is slightly larger for males. Also, foxes using grasslands tend to have larger home ranges than foxes using denser, more structurally diverse habitats. Den sites are variable and can occur in rocks, brush, log piles, earthen burrows, and man-made structures (Laughrin 1977, Moore and Collins 1995). Island Foxes exhibit both nocturnal and diurnal activity, and also are skilled climbers thereby allowing them to access resources in trees and large shrubs (Coonan et al. 2010a). 


Island Fox searching
(Island Fox searching for food, Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Adam Green)



Island Foxes are foraging generalists and consume a wide variety of items including rodents, birds, lizards, insects, snails, carrion, and fruits (Moore and Collins 1995, Cypheret al. 2011). Use of items varies by habitat-specific and island-specific availability, and also varies by seasonal availability (e.g., fruits, some insects, marine mammal carrion). Preferred items appear to include deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), lizards, beetles, Jerusalem crickets (Stenopalmatus spp.), earwigs (Forficula auricularia), and fruits of toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) (Cypher et al. 2011). Deer mice may be a particularly important food for parents to feed to growing pups due to ease of transport and high protein content (Laughrin 1977, Garcelon et al. 1999).

Jerusalem Cricket
Jerusalem cricket (Stenopalmatus spp.)


Island Fox Old
(Island Kit Fox in poor condition, Prisoner's Cove, Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Adam Green)

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Revised 26 January, 2015
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