Landscape genetics of the nonnative red fox of California

Benjamin Sacks, Jennifer L. Brazeal, Jeffrey C. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Invasive mammalian carnivores contribute disproportionately to declines in global biodiversity. In California, nonnative red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have significantly impacted endangered ground-nesting birds and native canids. These foxes derive primarily from captive-reared animals associated with the fur-farming industry. Over the past five decades, the cumulative area occupied by nonnative red fox increased to cover much of central and southern California. We used a landscape-genetic approach involving mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and 13 microsatellites of 402 nonnative red foxes removed in predator control programs to investigate source populations, contemporary connectivity, and metapopulation dynamics. Both markers indicated high population structuring consistent with origins from multiple introductions and low subsequent gene flow. Landscape-genetic modeling indicated that population connectivity was especially low among coastal sampling sites surrounded by mountainous wildlands but somewhat higher through topographically flat, urban and agricultural landscapes. The genetic composition of populations tended to be stable for multiple generations, indicating a degree of demographic resilience to predator removal programs. However, in two sites where intensive predator control reduced fox abundance, we observed increases in immigration, suggesting potential for recolonization to counter eradication attempts. These findings, along with continued genetic monitoring, can help guide localized management of foxes by identifying points of introductions and routes of spread and evaluating the relative importance of reproduction and immigration in maintaining populations. More generally, the study illustrates the utility of a landscape-genetic approach for understanding invasion dynamics and metapopulation structure of one of the world's most destructive invasive mammals, the red fox.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4775-4791
Number of pages17
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • Invasive species
  • landscape genetics
  • predator control
  • red fox
  • Vulpes fulva
  • Vulpes vulpes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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