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Winter severity limits red fox populations in Eurasia


*Correspondence: Kamil A. Bartoń, Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, 17-230 Białowieża, Poland. E-mail:


Aim  We investigated geographical variation in the density of the red fox in relation to climatic variables, habitat productivity and seasonality to identify those factors that were the best predictors of fox density.

Location  Published data on red fox abundance were collated from 69 locations over Europe and Asia.

Methods  Using generalized linear models and the information-theoretic approach, we analysed the contribution of climatic measures (winter and summer temperature, mean snow depth and duration), primary productivity and seasonality indices [based on the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation (FPAR) index] to account for variation in red fox density.

Results  Red fox density in winter ranged from 0.001–2.8 individuals km−2; the average density was 0.21 individuals km−2. Variation in red fox density was best explained by the winter temperature and seasonality. Density decreased with declining winter and summer temperatures, increasing degree of seasonality and increasing duration of snow cover. There was no relationship with habitat productivity.

Main conclusions  Our results indicate that winter climatic conditions and seasonality, but not habitat productivity, may limit red fox density in Eurasia. One explanation for the limitation of the red fox population may be the fox's physiological capability to cope with abiotic conditions. Concurrently, the severity of winter may lead to reduced availability of the fox's prey. That, together with a shorter reproductive period may result in lower reproductive output as well as lower survival of adults and cubs.