Monday, March 21, 2016

Genetic Rescue Needed to Save Island Foxes

The island fox is one of the fastest mammals to recover their populations after being placed under the endangered species act in 2004. Three out of six populations have successfully been rehabilitated, however, one population may need some assistance. An associate professor at the College of Natural Sciences, Department of Biology led a team of researchers in preforming the most in depth genetic study of island foxes in California, his name is Chris Funk. 

The results of the foxes genetic studies concluded that all six island fox populations permitted a designation of six subspecies. However, it also proved that one individual population on the San Nicolas Island may require some genetic assistance to prevent the population from extinction. To reduce this populations risk of extinction a process called genetic rescue may be necessary. 

The genomic study showed the San Nicolas population of foxes had a dangerously low amount of genetic variation. A low amount of genetic diversity can prove to be harmful to any species. This can lead to low survival rate or low reproductive success,or it can reduce the populations ability to resist disease outbreak and adapt to varying environmental changes. If all individuals of the population have identical genes there is no “survival of the fittest”, a simple disease may wipe out the entire population.

To avoid extinction, scientists are contemplating using genetic rescue. This means island foxes from other populations will be brought into this at risk population, and this will increase the gene pool of the population. The foxes chosen to increase the gene pool of the vulnerable population will be chosen using the collected genetic information of each population. The foxes with the most desirable traits for the San Nicolas foxes environment will most likely be selected for introduction. 

Genetic diversity is an important aspect of a healthy thriving population. It allows a population to have an overall chance of survival during an outbreak of disease, or serious environmental change, like climate change. The individuals with desirable traits to combat these issues will survive, those with non desirable traits will not survive. With a lack of genetic diversity it is likely all individuals in the population possess the undesirable trait, so to me this idea of genetic rescue can have serious benefits for this population. It has said to be successful in other populations, so I am curious to see if it is successful in this population of island foxes. 


  1. Very interesting. I know that this is not that first time genetic rescue was used. The florida panther was also need of rescue. Biologist mated texas cougars to florida panthers to increase variation in their populations for more advantageous traits.

  2. They did this with a population of bighorn sheep too, bringing in sheep from other populations of bighorns. Hopefully it works for the island foxes too.