Red foxes in the Sacramento Valley were long thought to be non-native. However, in 2005 genetic analyses performed in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s (SVM), Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) revealed these foxes to be native to the region and potentially in decline. These discoveries set off a joint effort by UC Davis and the California Department of Fish and Game to characterize the fox’s range extent, and potential interbreeding with non-native red fox populations to the south. Led by Dr. Ben Sacks, Assistant Adjunct Professor in the SVM and director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Unit of the VGL.
This project relied on citizen science, the centerpiece of which was an online reporting system for the public to communicate red fox sightings. During 2007-2009, over 400 reports were submitted by the public, which were instrumental in locating a total of 51 fox dens mapped throughout the Sacramento Valley and, ultimately, in advancing their conservation priority, currently under consideration as a California Mammal Species of Special Concern.
Now, the citizen science that was central to the 2007-2009 red fox study is itself the topic of a Masters project being conducted by Amy Brasch, a UC Davis alumna, in collaboration with her advisor, Dr. Heiko Wittmer, a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand with an adjunct affiliation in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, and Dr. Sacks. Their project seeks to better understand factors affecting public participation to more effectively utilize citizen science in future research and to seek ways to increase the educational value of participation for members of the public. To accomplish this, Ms. Brasch designed a web-based survey that she is asking the public to visit. It is linked to the original survey website, www.foxsurvey.ucdavis.edu and can be completed in 5 minutes.
The findings of this study will be used immediately to enhance the reporting web site, which will be re-launched for phase II of the Sacramento Valley red fox study, slated to begin January 2013 and extend over through 2016. This next phase, which will focus on better understanding the habitat needs and current abundance of the Sacramento Valley red fox, represents a continuation in the collaborative effort among UC Davis, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
For Further Media Information Contact: Dr. Heiko Wittmer, Email: Heiko.Wittmer@vuw.ac.nz. or Dr. Ben Sacks Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. ■