Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Arctic Fox of Norway. The whole gross of them.

I just sat through a rather interesting presentation by Nina Eide, from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, give a presentation on the state of the Arctic Fox in Fennoscandia - that is to say, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Unlike in Alaska, the Arctic fox in Norway faces a variety of unique challenges, following a radical population decline driven by over-hunting about 120 years ago. Right now, it's a critically endangered species, with an estimated 120 adult breeders left in Norway.

120 adult breeders. Read that again. There's more of those critters around a dead whale in any given place in Alaska than there are in all of Norway. That's astoundingly grim.

Dr. Eide reported multiple, non-exclusive hypothesis for what's driving the low population numbers, which included habitat fragmentation, competition with red foxes, the expatriation of large predators (thereby allowing the release of mesopredators like the red fox), climate change, and food availability. Many of these hypothesis are actually mutually supporting, especially as human induced changes that tend to disfavour the arctic fox seem to always favour the red fox. Recently, she reported, the last populations in southern Norway were extirpated entirely.

She went over their conservation methods, which include a predator control program being extended to red foxes (via bounties, and government run hunts), captive breeding, reintroduction, and den-site supplementation. In all due deference to the people at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the program as stated seems on unsteady ground.

  1. Direct supplementation is intensive, and requires a continuous investment for marginal returns.
  2. The captive breeding program, as she stated it was run, is going to over-represent a few genotypes, and lead to the genetic skew of the remaining population. It doesn't seem to equalize reproductive output of individuals.
  3. The intensive predator control on red foxes does nothing to address the problems that have caused the red fox to become so prevalent.

The arctic fox in Norway might be well and truly sunk, as sad as that might be. There's one glimmer of hope, and that comes from a quip she made that the long-term viability would increase if the gulf-stream shut down, plunging Norway into a frigid cold.

Betting with Global Warming. Depressing, but maybe not a bad idea at this point.

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