Arctic fox population monitoring

The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is the only terrestrial mammal native to Iceland. The main goal of the monitoring project is to estimate the size of Iceland’s Arctic fox population and track changes to its size and distribution over time. Monitoring is based on collaboration with fox hunters, who send carcasses to researchers. As hunting takes place in all regions and all seasons, this gives a good cross-section of the total population.

Scientists determine the foxes’ age by analysing the root cementum of the canine teeth. The total Arctic fox population is estimated with the use of age cohort analysis and hunting statistics.

Changes in population growth rate are compared to various elements, such as weather conditions and population changes in prey species, in order to explain limiting factors. Fertility and body condition are also evaluated, in order to explain regulating factors. Key factors such as recruitment and mortality rate, as well as fecundity, are assessed from hunting statistics and by measuring carcasses.

As part of fox monitoring, the IINH works with collaborators in Iceland and abroad on the following special projects:

  • Diet of Icelandic Arctic foxes in winter
  • Reproductive capacity of female Arctic foxes in Iceland
  • Conservation status of the Icelandic Arctic fox
  • Adaptation of the population model to the Icelandic Arctic fox population
  • Limiting factors in the population ecology of the Icelandic Arctic fox population
  • Density-dependent population dynamics of the Icelandic Arctic fox population
  • Health and pollutants in the Icelandic Arctic fox
  • Endothermal parasites in the Icelandic Arctic fox
  • Population genetics of the Icelandic Arctic fox
  • Social system of foxes
  • Habitat selection and distribution of Icelandic Arctic foxes

IINH contact: Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir