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Ecomorphology of the skulls of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) from south-west Western Australia

Forbes-Harper, Jesse (2010) Ecomorphology of the skulls of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) from south-west Western Australia. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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The diet of predators has a very strong influence on their morphology, and this is particularly true of their skulls. Ecomorphology is the prediction of an animal’s ecology from its morphological features. Cranial specializations in particular enable us to predict both diet and feeding behaviour, which are tightly linked. Foxes are introduced predators in Australia, and are controlled because of their detrimental effects upon native wildlife and livestock. Their impact is particularly severe in the biodiversity hotspot of the south-west. We collected samples from over 500 red foxes from 16 locations during culls carried out as part of the Red Card for the Red Fox program 2010, coordinated by the Department of Agriculture WA. Skull morphology (size, shape, weight, and tooth wear) was investigated and correlated with age, sex, geographic location, body mass and length, and environmental variables. Fox morphology data is analysed and interpreted, with a focus on the parameters above. By far the majority of animals that are shot by hunters are juveniles that are dispersing from their natal sites; adults are either less common or (more likely) far too smart to be tracked and shot. Adult foxes were found to have significantly more robust and heavy skulls than juveniles, whilst most other dimensions are in proportion (scale isometrically) with skull size. Skull robustness was found to significantly vary with geographic locations. Increased skull robustness may widen fox dietary options, although it is difficult to attribute this variation to the environmental variables investigated. Future directions in which to take fox ecomorphology research are suggested.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Supervisor(s): Fleming, Trish, Warburton, Natalie and Adams, Peter
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