Citizen scientists sought to monitor red foxes

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Source: The Daily Democrat, Woodland, CA

Image: UC Davis

A UC Davis alumna is studying citizen science to help understand the habitat needs and current population of the Sacramento Valley red fox.

Used as her masters project, her findings are expected to help improve citizen science methods for future studies.

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. People interested in participating in the study should go to the website: http://foxsurvey.ucdavis.edu/ to participate in the survey.

Amy Brasch, who is with Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is looking for information on the foxes, which were long thought to be non-native.

However, in 2005 genetic analyses performed in the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine's, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory 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," according to Brasch.

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 Brasch in collaboration with her adviser, 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 UCD, 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.

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