September 7th, 2010 by Zachary Shahan
Fox thought to be extinct found in California.
Three weeks ago, U.S. Forest Service biologists thought they found a fox in the mountains of central California that is supposed to be extinct.
The biologists looked to experts at the University of California, Davis to confirm this finding. Sure enough, the fox they stumbled across was this thought-to-be-extinct fox, a Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator).
How the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Was Found & Identified
Photographs of the fox were taken by a Forest Service trail camera near Sonora Pass and showed the fox biting a bait bag of chicken scraps. The bait bag was shipped to two expert wildlife genetics researchers working in the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Ben Sacks and Mark Statham. Regarding these researchers, UC Davis writes: “Since 2006, they have radically altered our understanding of red foxes in California, supplying information crucial to conservation efforts.”
Analyzing DNA from saliva they scraped off the tooth punctures on the bag, Sacks and Statham confirmed that the spotted fox was definitely a Sierra Nevada red fox.
“This is the most exciting animal discovery we have had in California since the wolverine in the Sierra two years ago — only this time, the unexpected critter turned out to be home-grown, which is truly big news,” Sacks said. (The wolverine found in the Sierra Nevada “was an immigrant from Wyoming,” UC Davis reported.)
California Red Fox Research and Findings
Sacks and his colleagues are leaders in California red fox research. Some of their key research and findings are as follows:
Four years ago, Sacks began analyzing California red fox DNA collected from scat, hair and saliva from live animals, and skin and bones from museum specimens. Until then, the expert consensus was that any red fox in the Central Valley and coastal regions of the state was a descendant of Eastern red foxes (V.v. fulva) brought here in the 1860s for hunting and fur farms.
Sacks and his colleagues have confirmed that red fox populations in coastal lowlands, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California were indeed introduced from the eastern United States (and Alaska). But they have also shown that:
* There are native California red foxes still living in the Sierra Nevada.
* The native red foxes in the Sacramento Valley (V.v. patwin) are a subspecies genetically distinct from those in the Sierra.
* The two native California subspecies, along with Rocky Mountain and Cascade red foxes (V.v. macroura and V. v. cascadensis), formed a single large western population until the end of the last ice age, when the three mountain subspecies followed receding glaciers up to mountaintops, leaving the Sacramento Valley red fox isolated at low
With so many species going extinct these days, it is great to see one “coming back to life.”
Photo Credits: Keith Slausen and UC Davis, respectively
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