The Wily and Courageous Red Fox: Behavioural Analysis of a Mesopredator at Resource Points Shared by an Apex Predator

Animals (Basel). 2019 Nov 1;9(11):907. doi: 10.3390/ani9110907.


The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a widespread and ecologically significant terrestrial mesopredator, that has expanded its range with human globalisation. Despite this, we know relatively little about their behaviour under the wide range of ecological conditions they experience, particularly how they navigate the risk of encounters with apex predators. We conducted the first ethological study of foxes outside their historic native range, in Australia, where both the foxes and their main predator were protected from human hunting. Using remote camera traps, we recorded foxes visiting key resource points regularly utilised by territorial dingoes (Canis dingo), their local apex predator, in the Painted Desert, South Australia. We constructed an ethogram sensitive to a range of behaviours and attitudes. Since foxes are suppressed by dingoes, we expected that the foxes would primarily be in a cautious state. In contrast, we found that foxes were in a confident state most of the time. Where human hunting is absent, social stability of predators may increase predictability and therefore decrease fear.

Keywords: Canis dingo; Vulpes vulpes; landscape of fear; mesopredator; trophic cascades.