Specialised omnivores – individual red foxes prefer different foods in the city and the countryside - Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

Red fox in bushes holding red plastic carrier bag in its mouth. A city fox is searching for food. Photo: S. Kramer-Schadt/Leibniz-IZW
A city fox is searching for food. (Photo: S. Kramer-Schadt/Leibniz-IZW )

Foxes are considered to be particularly adaptable and suited to life in large cities. A team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in cooperation with the Berlin-Brandenburg State Laboratory has now deciphered an important aspect of these adaptations. Using stable isotope analysis, they showed that individual red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have a much narrower diet than might be expected from their omnivorous habits. The population of country foxes had a much broader diet than their urban conspecifics, whose diet differed little between individuals. The diet of urban and country foxes showed little overlap. This combination of specialisation and flexibility is a key to this omnivore's adaptability, according to a paper published in the scientific journal “Ecology and Evolution”.

The red fox's ability to eat almost anything is certainly a key to success in conquering urban habitats. The fact that urban foxes all eat more or less the same food probably also indicates that there is plenty for all of them, says Scholz. “Obviously there is enough for everyone. We city dwellers set their table abundantly – with leftover food, waste, compost and pet food.”

Publication: Scholz C, Firozpoor F, Kramer-Schadt S, Gras P, Schulze C, Kimmig SE, Voigt CC, Ortmann S (2020): Individual dietary spezialization in a generalist predator: A stable isotope analysis of urban and rural red foxes. Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6584

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Posted On: 30/10/2020

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