Variation in home range size of red foxes Vulpes vulpes along a gradient of productivity and human landscape alteration

PLoS One. 2017 Apr 6;12(4):e0175291. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175291. eCollection 2017.

Abstract

Home range size is a fundamental concept for understanding animal dispersion and ecological needs, and it is one of the most commonly reported ecological attributes of free-ranging mammals. Previous studies indicate that red foxes Vulpes vulpes display great variability in home range size. Yet, there has been little consensus regarding the reasons why home range sizes of red foxes vary so extensively. In this study, we examine possible causes of variation in red fox home range sizes using data from 52 GPS collared red foxes from four study areas representing a gradient of landscape productivity and human landscape alteration in Norway and Sweden. Using 90% Local Convex Hull home range estimates, we examined how red fox home range size varied in relation to latitude, elevation, vegetation zone, proportion of agricultural land and human settlement within a home range, and sex and age. We found considerable variation in red fox home range sizes, ranging between 0.95 km2 to 44 km2 (LoCoH 90%) and 2.4 km2 to 358 km2 (MCP 100%). Elevation, proportion of agricultural land and sex accounted for 50% of the variation in home range size found amongst foxes, with elevation having the strongest effect. Red foxes residing in more productive landscapes (those in more southern vegetation zones), had home ranges approximately four times smaller than the home ranges of foxes in the northern boreal vegetation zone. Our results indicate that home range size was influenced by a productivity gradient at both the landscape (latitude) and the local (elevation) scale. The influence of the proportion of agriculture land on home range size of foxes illustrates how human landscape alteration can affect the space use and distribution of red foxes. Further, the variation in home range size found in this study demonstrates the plasticity of red foxes to respond to changing human landscape alteration as well as changes in landscape productivity, which may be contributing to red fox population increases and northern range expansions.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Ecosystem*
  • Female
  • Foxes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male

Grant support

Funding for this study was provided by the Swedish Nature Protection Board (DNR 15/155), Swedish Hunters Association (5861/2016), Karl Erik Önnesjös Stiftelse, Sweden, and the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (grant numbers: 13F6CC7, 15SA0283, 16SA3A43) and the Gotaas Fund, Norway (13/00282). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.