Variation in red fox Vulpes vulpes diet in five continents

Irene Castañeda, Tim S. Doherty, Patricia A. Fleming, Alyson M. Stobo-Wilson, John C.Z. Woinarski, Thomas M. Newsome

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Understanding variation in the diet of widely distributed species can help us to predict how they respond to future environmental and anthropogenic changes. We studied the diet of the red fox Vulpes vulpes, one of the world's most widely distributed carnivores. We compiled dietary data from 217 studies at 276 locations in five continents to assess how fox diet composition varied according to geographic location, climate, anthropogenic impact, and sampling method. The diet of foxes showed substantial variation throughout the species' range, but with a general trend for small mammals and invertebrates to be the most frequently occurring dietary items. The incidence of small and large mammals and birds in fox diets was greater away from the equator. The incidence of invertebrates and fruits increased with mean elevation, while the occurrence of medium-sized mammals and birds decreased. Fox diet differed according to climatic and anthropogenic variables. Diet richness decreased with increasing temperature and precipitation. The incidence of small and large mammals decreased with increasing temperature. The incidence of birds and invertebrates decreased with increasing mean annual precipitation. Higher Human Footprint Index was associated with a lower incidence of large mammals and a higher incidence of birds and fruit in fox diet. Sampling method influenced fox diet estimation: estimated percentage of small and medium-sized mammals and fruit was lower in studies based on stomach contents, while large mammals were more likely to be recorded in studies of stomach contents than in studies of scats. Our study confirms the flexible and opportunistic dietary behaviour of foxes at the global scale. This behavioural trait allows them to thrive in a range of climatic conditions, and in areas with different degrees of human-induced habitat change. This knowledge can help us to place the results of local-scale fox diet studies into a broader context and to predict how foxes will respond to future environmental changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-342
Number of pages15
JournalMammal Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


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