Red Fox In Oceania Essay

1749 words - 7 pages

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a common meso-carnivore native to North America, Europe, Asia, and some parts of northern Africa. Being adaptable and plastic while having a generalist diet and habitat selection, the red fox is perfectly capable of surviving and reproducing in almost any environment. For the same reasons that it is widespread and pertinent in its native range, it can be extremely invasive and disruptive in areas that it is introduced to. It is especially invasive in the Oceania region, where its disturbance to the natural ecosystem has earned the red fox to be ranked as the 99th most invasive species in the world (Invasive Species Specialist Group 2010).
Background Information
Being completely capable of inhabiting almost any environmental condition, the red fox is very widespread throughout its distribution in the northern hemisphere. Red fox tend to favor the fragmented and open landscapes that are common throughout the heavily cultivated and developed northern temperate regions because of the increased availability of cover, food, and den sites. Established populations in tundra and desert regions, as well as even urban environments, exemplify the wide-ranging abilities of this species to survive and be fecund. The tropics and unavailable niches due to occupancy by other meso-carnivores seem to be the only physical barriers and restrictions to the distribution of red foxes. (Invasive Species Specialist Group 2010). Isolation caused by the tropic climates in southeast Asia and island geography naturally secluded red foxes from inhabiting Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, but European colonization of the Oceania region led to the introduction of the species to an ecosystem primed to be exploited.
In the 1870’s, Europeans purposely released red foxes for recreational hunting in their colonies (Saunders and McLeod 2007, Saunders et. al 2010). Agricultural lands and abundant diet items such as hares, marsupials, and birds that were absent from the danger of predation since the extirpation of dingoes provided optimal conditions for the foxes to thrive. Foxes quickly established a niche and spread throughout the landscape, and currently inhabit and disrupt the native ecosystems in about 76% of Australia and parts of Tasmania (Fig 1, Fig 2, Saunders 2006).
Naturally, red foxes have become very abundant in an environment that was lacking a predatory presence that rivals the red foxes’. Being a veracious and opportunistic predator, the red foxes have wreaked havoc to the natural ecosystem by feeding on the native mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as human-managed livestock production, specifically through lamb depredation. Australia’s loss of native biodiversity caused by exotic species like hares, the cane toad, and the red fox is considered a national disaster. Twenty mammal species extinctions in the last 200 years have occurred in Australia since European settlement, representing about one half of...

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