Foxfight: Climate Change Causing Arctic & Red Foxes to Clash


Photo credit: Algkalv via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY

Arctic foxes in the northern reaches of Russia are suddenly facing a new threat, and from their own cousins no less -- red foxes. Researchers have found that warming temperatures are allowing the red foxes to migrate and stay further north, where they invade the breeding grounds of the much cuter Arctic fox. Unfortunately, cuteness doesn't count for crap in nature (outside of conservation fund-raisers, anyhow) -- but the fact that the red fox is bigger and more aggressive does. Scientists are now becoming increasingly concerned that with a more comfortable climate, the emboldened red foxes will set about ousting the Arctic ones. The BBC reports:

Russia's Arctic foxes are under threat from an expanding population of red foxes, according to scientists. For the first time, a red fox has been observed intruding on an Arctic fox breeding den in Russia's far north. The Arctic fox abandoned its den to the dominant intruder, leaving pups to fend for themselves. Researchers say this is evidence that red foxes are expelling Arctic foxes as a warming climate allows them to survive much further north. Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) live in mountainous tundra habitats around the north polar region.Scientists say that this is because red fox populations are expanding and, where the two overlap, red foxes dominate their smaller Arctic cousins.
So even though the red foxes aren't actively attacking Arctic foxes, they're scaring them off -- and mothers are abandoning their pups. In at least one observed instance, this has lead to an entire litter of Arctic foxes dying off from lack of protection from other predators.

I know, I know. As symbolic battles go, this one's only OK. We'd be better off if it were black or gray foxes invading from the south and assaulting the pure, white Arctic foxes, but I suppose the red ones will have to do. I guess it's the color of fire, the furnace of industry -- counts for something, right? Regardless of my feeble attempts to stretch this occurrence into a wider parable, this is indeed yet another very real example of the natural balance being toppled by climate change. We can expect more unprecedented clashes in nature as the world continues to warm.

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