Factors affecting red fox (Vulpes vulpes) dispersal patterns are poorly understood but warranted investigation because of the role of dispersal in rebuilding depleted populations and transmission of diseases. We examined dispersal patterns of red foxes in North Dakota based on recoveries of 363 of 854 foxes tagged as pups and relative to fox density. Foxes were recovered up to 8.6 years after tagging; 79% were trapped or shot. Straight-line distances between tagging and recovery locations ranged from 0 to 302 km. Mean recovery distances increased with age and were greater for males than females, but longest individual recovery distances were by females. Dispersal distances were not related to population density for males (P = 0.36) or females (P = 0.96). The proportion of males recovered that dispersed was inversely related to population density (r = -0.94; n = 5; P = 0.02), but not the proportion of females (r = -0.49; n = 5; P = 0.40). Dispersal directions were not uniform for either males (P = 0.003) or females (P = 0.006); littermates tended to disperse in similar directions (P = 0.09). A 4-lane interstate highway altered dispersal directions (P = 0.001). Dispersal is a strong innate behavior of red foxes (especially males) that results in many individuals of both sexes traveling far from natal areas. Because dispersal distance was unaffected by fox density, populations can be rebuilt and diseases transmitted long distances regardless of fox abundance.
Additional publication details
Dispersal patterns of red foxes relative to population density