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

Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney, P.O. Box 123, Ultimo, New South Wales 2007, Australia
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Animals 2019, 9(11), 907; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110907
Received: 21 September 2019 / Revised: 31 October 2019 / Accepted: 31 October 2019 / Published: 1 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Ecology and Conservation)
The red fox is one of the Earth’s most widespread mammalian predators. Human globalisation has further expanded its range, so that today they are found on most continents. Despite their abundance, knowledge of fox behaviour remains limited. Most studies have observed foxes either in captivity or in their native range where both they and their predators are killed by humans. We conducted a behavioural study on foxes outside of their native range in Australia, at a unique location where all wildlife are protected. We developed an ethogram to explore fox behaviour at resource points shared with a potentially deadly apex predator, the dingo. We were surprised to find that foxes were in a confident state more often than in a cautious state, even leaving territorial markings over those of dingoes. One possible explanation for the confidence of foxes is that the social stability of both foxes and dingoes makes their world more predictable.
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. View Full-Text
Keywords: Vulpes vulpes; Canis dingo; landscape of fear; trophic cascades; mesopredator Vulpes vulpes; Canis dingo; landscape of fear; trophic cascades; mesopredator
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Wooster, E.; Wallach, A.D.; Ramp, D. The Wily and Courageous Red Fox: Behavioural Analysis of a Mesopredator at Resource Points Shared by an Apex Predator. Animals 2019, 9, 907.

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