Comparing Winter Ranges and Diet of Arctic Fox

Principal Investigators Brian Person, Ph.D.
Collaborators University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), Dr. Knut Kielland and graduate student Neil Lehner
Funding Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development


This study builds on previous work that determined the winter ranges of arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) collared in NPR-A and Prudhoe Bay. We plan to measure the diet of arctic fox whose winter movements we track with satellite telemetry. Last summer, fifteen arctic fox were captured and fitted with satellite radio collars near den sites in the NPR-A, and twenty were captured and fitted near Prudhoe Bay in the summer of 2009. See the maps below for the collaring locations.

Collaring locations in NPR-A Collaring locations in Prudhoe Bay

Map taken from Pamperin, et al., 2008

Report Summary:

In the spring of 2010 we attempted to recapture and recover the collared fox in order to obtain data on their overwinter diet. Samples of several different body tissues will be analyzed for chemical content. Measuring carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios, or different types of molecules, in the tissues will provide information on their winter diet because tissues such as hair, blood, and muscle change these chemical ratios at different rates. Together, with the satellite radio collar data, we will have a better idea of the winter diet of arctic fox from the two known winter ranges.

In the summer of 2010 we flew aerial transects to estimate the number of den sites north of Teshekpuk Lake. This baseline information is important to gather because this area is an important goose molting area for non-breeding and failed breeding waterfowl. This area is also known for high oil and gas reserves and it is likely that tracts of land will be leased for oil and gas extraction in the future. If development occurs in this area it would be important to compare these data to any potential changes in the number of arctic fox den sites.


Updated Report:

This work built upon the work of Pamperin et al. 2008 by quantifying the diet of arctic foxes with known winter movements in developed areas (Prudhoe Bay oil fields) and undeveloped areas (NPR-A). Fox daily travel rates were about 5 times greater in the undeveloped area than in the developed area. The foxes in the Prudhoe Bay area remained near their capture location throughout the winter whereas foxes collared in NPR-A made long distance movements on the pack ice and on land. Diet analysis revealed that Prudhoe Bay foxes diet was comprised of human foods, based on isotopic tissue signature. In contrast, NPR-A fox diet included effectively no anthropogenic (or human) foods and their isotopic signature revealed a strong marine food base which was not observed in foxes residing in Prudhoe Bay. These results demonstrate that, despite improved food and waste handling practices in the oil fields, fox residing in the oil fields exhibit behaviors that strongly differ from foxes in undeveloped areas along the North Slope.


What to Do if You Find a Collared Arctic Fox

Click here for a copy of the poster below, containing information on who to contact and what to do if you find a fox carcass with a collar, or harvest a fox with a collar, or just see a live fox with a collar. On the North Slope, please call Brian Person for him to collect the collar and carass at (907) 852-0350. Remember, arctic fox may carry rabies so handle them with care, including wearing gloves.

Banner photo credit: Jason Herreman

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