Diet of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in Iceland

Authors

  • P. Hersteinsson,

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
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      Department of Biology, University of Iceland, Grensásvegi 12, 108-Reykjavik, Iceland.

  • D. W. Macdonald

    Corresponding author
    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
      Address for correspondence.
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Address for correspondence.

Abstract

Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus, live in low productivity arctic and northern tundra habitats, where they generally prey heavily on lemmings. In Iceland, however, no lemmings are present, and the foxes have a very varied diet, including plants such as seaweed and black crowberries, a wide range of birds and invertebrates, and carcasses of large mammals such as seals, reindeer, and sheep. Marked seasonal, geographical and inter-annual differences confirm arctic foxes in Iceland as opportunistic feeders. There are coastal and inland foxes: coastal foxes feed mainly on prey derived directly or indirectly from the ocean, particularly various seabirds and seals, while inland foxes feed largely on migrant birds, such as geese, waders and passerines in summer, and ptarmigan in winter. Despite their reputation for killing lambs, in this study, lamb carcasses were found at only 19.4% of 1125 fox dens, 44% of which had only one carcass. The distance to the nearest farm and the physical condition of lambs were major determinants of the number of carcasses found at a den. We discuss the implications of arctic foxes' diet for population dynamics and group formation, and for management practices.

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