This series of blog posts began by describing the overview of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic region. It then moved to discussing a specific species in each blog after that and how it was being affected by climate change. The first animal discussed was the polar bear, followed by the harp seal, caribou, and beluga whale. This last and final blog post of this series will explain the impacts of climate change on the arctic fox, also called the white fox or polar fox.
Arctic foxes have short rounded ears, a short nose, and fur covering the bottoms of their feet. They also have a thick layer of fur. These are all adaptations to the cold climate that they live in. There are two types of fur color for the arctic fox: the white and blue color phase. Arctic foxes of the white color phase are a gray-brown color in the summer and white in the winter. Foxes of the blue color phase are gray in the summer and gray-blue color in the winter. Mature adult arctic foxes are about 20 to 24 inches long with a 12 inch long tail and they weigh between 6.6 to 17 pounds (Britannica.com). Arctic fox pups are born with darker fur to keep them warm. The coats of adult arctic foxes are entirely white or blueish in the winter to camouflage them in the snow (WWF.org).
Arctic foxes can be found in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, North America, Greenland, Iceland, and islands of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific oceans (Center for Biological Diversity). They often roam across the arctic tundra and sea ice. Foxes have litters of 6 or 7 pups in snow dens in the arctic tundra. Sea ice is important for hunting. They live 3 to 6 years in the wild, but can live up to 10 in captivity.
Arctic foxes are omnivores and they eat whatever type of food that is available to them. They will often eat the remnants of what a polar bear has eaten. In the summer, they mainly eat rodents, such as the arctic lemming, one of the smallest mammals in the arctic. In the winter, they mainly hunt birds and sometimes even reindeer, in addition to rodents (Britannica.com).
The arctic fox faces three major impacts on its population due to climate change. These factors include loss of habitat, less prey, and red fox competition.
The arctic sea ice is melting due to climate change. Arctic foxes rely on sea ice for hunting. A loss of hunting grounds will cause low winter survival rates and less reproductive success as the foxes will not be getting the nutrients that they need to survive and give birth. Foxes who cannot hunt due to fewer amounts of sea ice could decide to try to search for food in human-populated regions or industrial areas. This arises the arctic fox’s possibility of increased encounters with humans which will cause potential conflicts and lead to them getting killed (Center for Biological Diversity). There are also more shrubs and trees in the arctic region as temperatures continue to warm. This will replace their habitat of lichen and moss with woodlands. In Alaska, three types of trees: the dwarf birch, willow and white spruce, have all increased in the region over the last 50 years (Center for Biological Diversity).
A staple food in the arctic fox diet is the lemming. A lemming is a rodent and it is one of the smallest animals that lives in the Arctic region. Climate change is also affecting lemmings which will then affect the arctic fox. In the wintertime, lemmings live in places under the snow where they are protected and insulated with access to plants. They will prosper in good snow conditions. Scientists in Norway have discovered that an increase in temperatures and humidity changes have led to cycles of icing and thawing in the winter that create poor snow conditions (Center for Biological Diversity). Lemmings have not been able to reproduce well because of this and their numbers are decreasing. This will also decrease the food supply for arctic foxes.
There has been a new competition for the arctic fox: the red fox. The red fox has generally lived in woodland areas that are several miles south of the arctic tundra. Recently, red foxes have been gradually moving northward, closer to the arctic foxes. Climate change has been turning areas of the arctic in to wooded forest areas that are most favored by the red fox (Center for Biological Diversity). The red fox is also taking the arctic fox’s food supply, which is already decreasing due to climate change. You can learn more about the competition between the arctic fox and red fox in the video below.
“Arctic Fox.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/animal/Arctic-fox.
Arctic Fox. Center for Biological Diversity, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/climate_law_institute/the_arctic_meltdown/slideshow_text/arctic_fox.html#:~:text=The%20Arctic%20fox%20faces%20a,moving%20northward%20as%20temperatures%20warm.
“11 Arctic Species Affected by Climate Change.” WWF, https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/11-arctic-species-affected-climate-change.
“Arctic Fox.” Potter Park Zoo, https://potterparkzoo.org/animals/arctic-fox/.
Animal Wonders Montana. “Arctic Fox, Red Fox.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Feb. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWthS2FuFCg.