Foxes get frisky in the far north

July 17, 2007

Bees do it, chimps do it… Now it seems Arctic foxes do it, too. New research looking at the DNA fingerprints of canids in the Far North has revealed that foxes once thought to be monogamous are in fact quite frisky.

From polyandry to multiple paternity and plural breeding, Canadian researchers have gathered DNA evidence from adult foxes and their offspring that proves that some arctic foxes are mixing it up when it comes to mating.

Until recently, wildlife biologists considered many species of canines—including foxes, wolves and coyotes—to be monogamous. But molecular genetic techniques are starting to reveal complexities in mammalian mating systems that were not apparent from observational studies of animal social behavior.

Using a technique called microsatellite DNA fingerprinting, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the University of Quebec at Rimouski collected DNA samples from 49 arctic foxes trapped in dens on Bylot Island, Nunavut.

In three-quarters of the dens, DNA fingerprints showed that the fox cubs were the offspring of a single male and female. But in a quarter of the cases, the arctic foxes proved to be less exclusive, with one litter providing the first genetic evidence of polyandry (females having multiple male mates at one time) with multiple paternity.

Lindsey Carmichael—lead author of the study and a recent graduate from the U of A—says there are various explanations for polyandry and the multiple paternity associated with it.

“Multiple paternity allows a female to increase the genetic variation contained in a single season’s reproductive output,” says Carmichael. “This increase in variation might improve the odds that at least one cub in a litter will be optimally adapted to its current environment or better equipped to deal with changes in its environment over time.”

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Gene targeting discovery opens door for vaccines and drugs

Related Stories

Gene targeting discovery opens door for vaccines and drugs

April 13, 2009

In a genetic leap that could help fast track vaccine and drug development to prevent or tame serious global diseases, DMS researchers have discovered how to destroy a key DNA pathway in a wily and widespread human parasite. ...

Breaking BubR1 mimics genetic shuffle seen in cancer cells

November 17, 2008

A study of how one protein enzyme, BubR1, helps make sure chromosomes are equally distributed during mitosis might explain how the process of cell division goes so awry in cancer, according to researchers from Fox Chase Cancer ...

Wildlife biologists use dogs' scat-sniffing talents for good

January 11, 2011

It will come as no surprise to dog owners that their four-legged friends have a flair for sniffing out the excrement of other animals. Now, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, have trained dogs to detect ...

Recommended for you

Timing a sextuple quasar

December 1, 2015

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores around which vast amounts of energy are being radiated. Indeed, so much light is emitted that the nucleus of a quasar is much brighter than the rest of the entire ...

Xbox gaming technology may improve X-ray precision

December 1, 2015

With the aim of producing high-quality X-rays with minimal radiation exposure, particularly in children, researchers have developed a new approach to imaging patients. Surprisingly, the new technology isn't a high-tech, high-dollar ...

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

December 1, 2015

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.