Arctic fox: Perfectly adapted to frigid environment, but what's next?

The Arctic fox is a highly adaptable little creature. It's keen sense of hearing and it's thick coat which changes color depending on the season has served it well. In winter it has no problem existing in weather as cold as -58F. It is thriving in most places except Finland where it has never recovered from unrelentless hunting.

But there is one question looming over it's continued survival now and that is how will it adapt to the warming climate change in the northern environments that it calls home. Since all things are connected, a major food source of the Arctic fox is the lemming which is highly sensitive to climate change. The decline in lemmings has already effected the snowy owl in Greenland where they have now declined 98 percent after the area's lemming population collapsed.

Even though Arctic foxes are generalist eaters and will consume whatever they can find, the lack of lemmings has also had "noticeable effects on their reproductive performance" in that area. Previous research has shown that lemming populations tend to crash every three to five years, followed by a crash in Arctic fox populations. Under normal environmental conditions both species can usually recover but climate change is a different challenge altogether.

Increased competition by the Red fox has played a big part in the Arctic fox's habitat. With the warmer weather, the Red foxes are increasingly moving north into areas where they did not live before, including Finland, Russia, etc. They eat the same prey as the Arctic fox and they are both bigger and more aggressive than Arctic foxes. Red foxes have been known to attack their Arctic cousins. Even though the Red foxes do not kill the Arctic foxes, the Arctic fox mothers have been observed abandoning their young after a Red fox attack.

Another change from the warming temperatures is that the tundra habitat could turn into boreal forests which would make it harder for the Arctic fox to find food since trees provide new places for prey to live and hide. This could provide a significant challenge to the Arctic fox in being able to secure enough food for itself and it's family.

Finally there is the link to the Polar bear. If polar bear populations decline as expected due to climate change, the foxes could lose a main source of their food since they tend to scavenge on the remains of kills left behind by polar bears.

Only time will tell how these beautiful little creatures will adapt to climate change. It will be a hard challenge as with many other animals. Luckily, Arctic foxes are also prodigious breeders, sometimes producing as many as 25 cubs per litter. They mature quickly and reach breeding age in less than a year. If they can find enough food, hopefully they will be one of the more fortunate species to survive.


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