Quirks & Quarks

Arctic fox turns stark tundra into green space

Decomposing prey carcasses, feces and urine around Arctic fox dens make small patches of the Arctic green.

The backyard of the Arctic fox's den becomes green - thanks to waste and carrion

University of Manitoba master's candidate Jackie Verstege snapped a few shots of the Arctic fox den gardens in August 2015 during the research team's summer aerial surveys near Churchill. (Jackie Verstege)
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A study of active Arctic fox dens in northern Manitoba has provided an explanation for the unusual growth of vegetation around the sites. Dr. James Roth, a food web ecologist from The University of Manitoba, found that the foxes have unwittingly become 'ecosystem engineers'.

The combined effect of the foxes and their many cubs urinating and defecating around the dens - together with the decomposing prey carcasses - have increased the nutrients in the soil, which supports more vegetation.

The plants, in turn, attract a variety of herbivores, including caribou, hares and lemmings, while the prey remains bring scavengers, including wolves, ravens and polar bears.

Related Links

Paper in Nature Scientific Reports
- CBC News
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National Geographic story