Saved from extinction, Southern California’s Channel Island foxes now face new threat to survival
- In the 1990s, island fox populations began to dwindle due to an outbreak of canine distemper and an increase in attacks by golden eagles.
- Some islands saw fox populations drop to as low as 15 individuals, but conservation efforts by the federal government restored numbers by 2016.
- A new USC Dornsife study reveals a worrying decrease in genetic diversity within the species that poses a new threat to the Channel Islands foxes’ survival.
- The decrease in genetic diversity reduces the foxes’ ability to adapt to future challenges, such as climate change and new pathogens, putting their survival at risk once again.
- On the upside, the foxes possess diverse gut microbiomes that could help them cope with environmental changes.
Tiny foxes — each no bigger than a five-pound housecat — inhabiting the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California were saved from extinction in 2016. However, new research reveals that the foxes now face a different threat to their survival.
Suzanne Edmands, professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and Nicole Adams, who earned her PhD from USC Dornsife in 2019, found that the foxes’ genetic diversity has decreased over time, possibly jeopardizing their survival and the biodiversity of the islands.
“The findings of this study highlight the alarming fact that the foxes currently inhabiting six of the Channel Islands possess extremely low genetic diversity, rendering them potentially more susceptible to dangers such as disease outbreaks and climate-induced environmental shifts,” Edmands said.