The rarest fox in the world is in danger due to the climate crisis

A San Nicolas Island fox resting with her pup. The high rainfall in recent years has led to an increase in the number of offspring.

Photo: Francesca Ferrara/US Navy

Off the coast of southern California, in the United States, a small archipelago comprises eight islands, known as the Channel Islands. The most remote of them, San Nicolás, which functions as a US naval station, is home to a unique subspecies of fox, called Urocyon littoralis dickeyi, the gray fox of the islands. (Read: They file a project to prohibit the Police from using animals in the protests)

Historically, the small carnivore reached the highest densities of the six fox subspecies on these islands. Four of them were listed as endangered in the 1990s.

In San Nicolás, the populations of this canid, considered the rarest in the world, are very limited because its habitat, degraded by humans, is limited to a land area of ​​57 km2. The data collected over 18 years also show that droughts and the low diversity of food resources, with scarce vegetation, have finished reducing them.

Thus, in the last decade, the fox population on the island of San Nicolás, which has the capacity to house less than a thousand individuals, has been reduced by almost half. In 2016 there were only 332 foxes left.

However, despite this dire scenario and the multitude of threats that lie in wait for this insular subspecies, a team of American scientists has now determined in the journal Ecosphere that the animal, weighing no more than three kilos and 15 cm tall, actually has a low risk of extinction.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers predicted the size of the fox population in the future assuming that the current relatively dry environmental conditions persisted. For the next 50 years, the computer model showed that foxes would become extinct in only 2.5% of the simulations.

“This relatively low risk of extinction is good news for the San Nicolas Island foxes, but they are not out of the woods,” said Victoria Bakker, a researcher at Montana State University and lead author of the paper. Climate change could increase its vulnerability and worsen the situation of the carnivore, which has little room for response. (You can read: Objective: create the map of the animals that we still have to discover)

The danger continues to haunt

“As a top carnivore living on a small island with encroached and degraded habitats, it is likely to experience the effects of climate change earlier and more acutely than other species. If even more frequent or severe droughts occur, the danger to foxes could increase substantially,” the expert stresses.

To avoid this situation, the authors suggest strategies that could enable fox resilience and adaptation to a changing climate and other human-induced disturbances. According to co-author Francesca Ferrara, a natural resources specialist at Naval Base Ventura County, resource managers on the island are now focused on biosecurity, restoring habitat and food resources, and minimizing human-to-human conflict. and wildlife.

“We have ongoing vaccination and surveillance programs to ensure that no new invasive species or pathogens are established on the island,” Ferrara stresses. (You may be interested: As of today, live animals cannot be sold in market places in Bogotá)

“Because of their isolation, the island foxes are at risk of contracting diseases that normally circulate in the mainland fauna. As they have never been exposed and do not have natural immunity, a pathogen that is mild for a mainland species can be fatal for the island fox”, concludes the scientist.

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The rarest fox in the world is in danger due to the climate crisis

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