Zoological Studies

Vol. 47 No. 4, 2008

Den Habitat Characteristics of Tibetan Foxes (Vulpes ferrilata) in Shiqu County, Sichuan Province, China

Zheng-Huan Wang1,2, Xiao-Ming Wang1,2,*, and Aleksei A. Chmura3

1School of Life Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
2Shanghai Key Laboratory of Urbanization and Ecological Restoration, School of Life Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
3Consortium for Conservation Medicine, 17th Floor, 460 West 34th St., New York, NY 10001, USA

Zheng-Huan Wang, Xiao-Ming Wang, and Aleksei A. Chmura (2008) The Tibetan fox (Vulpes ferrilata), an endemic canid living on the Tibetan Plateau above 3000 m, is listed by the IUCN as having insufficient data, with only limited information available on its ecology.  It is also an important definitive wild host of a lethal zoonotic, alveolar echinococcosis (AE), caused by the tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis.  Understanding the habitat ecology of Tibetan foxes will benefit the conservation of the species and provide greater understanding of the transmission mechanisms of AE.  Shiqu County is a typical plateau pasture area, located in western Sichuan Province, on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau.  It is a high human AE endemic area where Tibetan foxes are abundant.  Thus, we studied the Tibetan fox's den habitat characteristics during 2001 to 2003 here, documenting 153 dens.  We hypothesized that (1) the Tibetan fox should den on slopes with an open landscape and near rivers, and (2) fox dens should be located in areas where extreme temperature conditions are moderated, and den entrance azimuths should avoid the prevailing direction of strong winds to ensure a moderate microclimate in this cold, dry, and unpredictable steppe climate.  All dens were found to be located on slopes and significantly more dens were distributed in areas with an open landscape.  Den entrance obliquities and slope gradients were significantly related (z = -0.303, p = 0.762).  Entrance azimuths and slope aspects were concentrated in a westerly direction.  Distances from dens to a river (814 317 m) did not violate a random distribution (z = -0.487, p = 0.626).  Significantly more pika burrows were found around abandoned fox dens than around active dens.  We concluded that Tibetan fox dens are distributed on slopes, avoid a direct southern slope aspect, and are located in open habitats.  River distances and entrance exposure directions were not statistically significant factors in Tibetan fox den habitat selection.

Key words: Den, Habitat, Sichuan, Tibetan fox, Vulpes ferrilata.

*Correspondence: Tel: 86-21-62233539.  E-mail:xmwang@ecnu.edu.cn