Winter scent-marking and travel behavior of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in New Hampshire and Vermont

Van de Poll, Wendy
Sy Montgomery
Department of Environmental Studies
The goals of this study were designed to improve the perspective on the winter track behavior of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in southwestern New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont. The specific objectives of this research were to compare scent-marking and travel behaviors (trotting, walking and loping) of the red fox to cover type and track depth. Red fox tracks were monitored during periods of snowcover during the winter season of 1994-1995. Fox tracks were located from roads or trails throughout all of the study areas. Tracks were either backtracked if recent or followed if they were more than a day old. Distance data was collected by pacing the tacks made by a particular red fox within each forest cover type. It was then converted to meters or kilometers. Forest cover types were categorized by visual assessment and recorded as mixed, hardwoods, softwoods, mixed hardwood dominant, mixed softwood dominant, open areas, road/trails, ecotone/brushy border or waterways. Dominant tree species and canopy height/age class within each cover type were also recorded, as were snow conditions and sinking depth of fox tracks. Fox behavior, interpreted from signs in the snow, were defined as walking, trotting, loping, sitting, bedding, scent urine marking, scent urine marking with blood, scent scat marking, pouncing, sniffing, digging, ground scratching and caching. If a kill site was present, this was also indicated on the data collection sheet. A total of 22 km of fox trails were backtracked or followed, and there were a total of 551 visitations to all of the above cover types. There were a total of 10 behaviors observed, and trotting was the most prevalent. A One-Way Chi-Square statistical test was utilized to analyze all three null hypotheses. A chi-square result of 64.3 showed that red foxes preferred to scent mark in open areas (p = .05) (df 8) (cv = 15.5). Walking, trotting, and loping were influenced by sinking track depths. A p value of = .01 (df=3) (cv=11.3) were utilized. Results indicated that red foxes will trot (x2=15.7) less in deeper sinking track depths (>4”) than in shallow sinking track depths (<1”). However, the opposite is true for walking (x2=17.6). Foxes will walk more in sinking track depths >4” and less than in sinking snow depths <1”. Loping was the choice travel method when sinking depths were greater than 2” and did not occur when sinking track depths were <2” (x2=54). Statistical significance was found in both cover types in regards to trotting and walking but not loping. Using a p value of = .05 (df=1) (cv=3.84) a chi-square result of 4.18 indicates that foxes were trotting more than expected in the edge-open areas and less than expected in the forest cover type. There was no significant result for loping in either cover type. Therefore, in this study loping was not influence by cover type.

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