Demystifying foxes and coyotes for Minnesota’s urban residents

June 5, 2019

With new state funding, University of Minnesota researchers investigate the implications of increased red fox, grey fox, and coyote populations in the Twin Cities Metro Area

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, MAY 2019 --- New funding from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is enabling University of Minnesota researchers to better connect some of Minnesota’s urban residents to red foxes, grey foxes, and coyotes.

Foxes and coyotes are becoming increasingly common in urban landscapes, but little is known about the food systems, diseases, and habitats of these animals in the Twin Cities Metro Area. Area residents now have opportunities to spot these wildlife species in parks and other green spaces close to their homes, but this proximity can also generate concern about how interacting with them can affect both pets and people. With this new research, scientists hope to address any public concern about red foxes, grey foxes, and coyotes by demystifying their behavior and identifying areas that can be managed to reduce potential conflicts between these urban carnivores and people and pets. The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources recommended this work for funding from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which recently awarded  $500,000 over the course of three years (from 2019 to 2022) to the project.

The scientists will map fox and coyote movement and identify the habitats they use. They will capture individual 15 gray foxes, 15 red foxes, and 15 coyotes and fit them with a global positioning system (GPS) collar. These animals will be collected from areas identified through the project’s online observation portal, where local residents can post information about foxes and coyotes they have seen.

GPS locations of the study animals will be analyzed to identify habitat needs, quantify survival rates, determine home range areas, and estimate population sizes. The scientists will determine how much “human food” foxes and coyotes eat by collecting and analyzing hair and fecal samples from each study animal they capture. This part of the project will reveal the extent to which fox and coyote diets influence their health and risk of conflict with people and pets. It will also inform “greening” initiatives that provide wildlife with the best possible habitat.

The researchers will also determine what diseases are infecting coyotes and foxes in the Twin Cities Metro Area. They will accomplish this by collecting blood and fecal samples from captured animals and focusing on testing multiple diseases that threaten not only the health of foxes and coyotes, but also people and their pets. Each of the samples will be tested for rabies, distemper, heartworm, toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, echinococcosis, and Lyme disease. Results will allow the researchers to quantify the prevalence of infectious diseases and map locations of diseased animals. Information gathered from this part of the study will lead to a knowledge base of diseases that affect wild canids, pets, and people. It will also act as a first step toward long-term disease monitoring and mitigation programs.

“We are excited to start a project motivated by the needs of Metro citizens and wildlife managers to better understand the ecology and diseases of our urban wild canids,” says Meggan Craft, PhD, associate professor, Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, UMN College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “These animals are key players in our local ecosystem and are sharing urban spaces with us at an increasing rate, so understanding them is more crucial than ever before.”

This project will initiate research opportunities for UMN undergraduate in the UMN Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Club, graduate students, and Summer Scholars at the CVM, who will participate in the project’s research activities. This pilot project would ultimately help support the University’s educational mission, while acting as a springboard to future funding and a long‐term data set.

This research will also provide foundational information to local wildlife managers that does not currently exist, resulting in multiple benefits for Minnesota wildlife. The project will support development of management strategies for foxes and coyotes, and serve as a model that can be used to develop additional studies for other species (e.g., raccoons) and other urban areas (e.g., Duluth).

“The Minnesota Legislature has helped us further our college's mission by supporting this work," says Molly McCue, DVM, MS, PhD, interim associate dean for research at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. "They have emboldened our talented researchers to help solve some of the issues faced by Minnesota, and we are incredibly grateful for their investment in our work.”

The team of researchers is led by Nicholas McCann, PhD, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, in the University of Minnesota (UMN) College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); Meggan Craft, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine in the UMN College of Veterinary Medicine; and James Forester, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology in CFANS. The UMN researchers are collaborating with partners at the Three Rivers Park District, and Friends of the Mississippi River are also assisting with this project.

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CONTACT

Nicholas McCann, postdoctoral associate, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, UMN CFANS, mccan062@umn.edu

Meggan Craft, PhD, associate professor, Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, UMN College of Veterinary Medicine, craft004@umn.edu, 612-625-6242

James Forester, PhD, associate professor, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, UMN CFANS, jdforest@umn.edu, 612-626-6721