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Sly Red Fox Outed by Scientific Sleuthing

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

New research featured in the April/May 2011 issue of Science Findings, a monthly publication of the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Station, can assist efforts aimed at conserving potentially imperiled populations of the North American red fox. “When most people think of the red fox, they envision the ones that thrive in low-elevation, human-dominated landscapes,” said lead author Keith Aubry. “But there are other extremely elusive and rarely seen populations that live only in isolated alpine and subalpine areas in the mountains of the Western United States.”

Aubry’s study used genetic analyses of 285 museum specimens and a close examination of fossil, archeological, historical, and ecological records. He and his colleagues found that North American red foxes stemmed from two distinct lineages that diverged from each other while they were isolated in both the southern and northern parts of the continent during the last Ice Age.

With knowledge of the evolutionary history and genetics of the North American red fox, managers can distinguish native from nonnative populations and can clarify genetic relationships among subspecies—knowledge that, in turn, can be used to target conservation efforts to the appropriate gene pool.  To read the April/May 2011 issue of Science Findings online, visit our website.

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