• Foxes and food subsidies: anthropogenic food use by red and Arctic foxes, and effects on Arctic fox survival, on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska

      Savory, Garrett; O'Brien, Diane; Hunter, Christine; Hueffer, Karsten; Person, Brian (2013-12)
      Food subsidies have the potential to impact wildlife on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes (L., 1758)) expanded their range into Arctic regions during the 20th century, and the availability of anthropogenic foods may have contributed to their success and persistence in the Arctic. Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus (L., 1758)) are also known to forage on anthropogenic foods in Prudhoe Bay and to forage on marine mammals on the sea ice, but it is unknown whether these strategies benefit survival of Arctic foxes. This thesis examined: 1) the importance of anthropogenic foods to the diets of red and Arctic foxes in Prudhoe Bay, and 2) the factors with the greatest effect on Arctic fox survival, including access to food subsidies in Prudhoe Bay and on the sea ice. For the first study, stable isotopes of red and Arctic fox tissues were used to infer late summer, late winter, and lifetime (for red fox only) diets. The contribution of anthropogenic foods to the diets of both species was low in late summer (~10%) but high in late winter (49%, 95% credible interval = 38-57%, of red fox diets and 37%, 95% credible interval = 29-44%, of Arctic fox diets). Estimates of lifetime diet in red foxes revealed high levels of anthropogenic food use, similar to the winter diet. To characterize the extent of competition for food resources, dietary niche overlap was examined between both species by comparing isotopic niche space. Both fox species had little isotopic niche overlap but may have greater overlap between their ecological dietary niches. Availability and consumption of anthropogenic foods by red foxes, particularly in winter, may partially explain their year-round presence in Prudhoe Bay. For the second study, nest survival models and satellite collar data were used to evaluate whether multiple factors affected survival of adult and juvenile foxes. Site and sea ice use had two times more support than the other factors. Three groups of foxes were identified based on capture location and sea ice use, which corresponded to different survival rates: Prudhoe Bay foxes, NPR-A foxes that used sea ice during more than eight 2-week periods during the winter (seven 2-week periods for juveniles), and NPR-A foxes that did not use sea ice. Both adult and juvenile foxes at Prudhoe Bay had modestly higher annual survival rates, 0.50 (90% CI 0.31-0.69) and 0.04 (90% CI 0.0-0.08) respectively, than foxes at NPR-A that did not use sea ice, 0.40 (90% CI 0.18-0.62) and 0.01 (90% CI 0.0-0.04) respectively. NPR-A foxes that used sea ice extensively had the highest survival rates. Food subsidies may have far-reaching effects on red and arctic foxes on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska.