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Since the Pleistocene, Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus, on Mednyi Island in the North Pacific have been isolated in a small area with rich food resources and no other terrestrial carnivores. This situation provides an unusually simple system within which the effect of food dispersion on demography and social organisation was examined. We studied the composition, location and dispersal of 67 Arctic fox groups and mapped their major food resources (seabird colonies) during 1994-2000 on Mednyi. We compared our observations with the predictions of models of sex-ratio determination. Our observations are most consistent with the predictions of Julliard's (2000) model, where mothers are expected to produce more offspring of the most dispersing sex in low-quality habitats, and more offspring of the most philopatric sex in high-quality habitats. The polygynous foxes on Mednyi Island lived where the principal food resources were patchily distributed (present on 11% of the shoreline), and cub survival to dispersal age or reproductive adult was higher in rich (25/45) than in poor (24/79) home ranges. Furthermore, dispersal was strongly sex-biased: most females (60%) remained on their natal ranges, whereas very few males (9%) did so. Significantly more female than male cubs (54 compared with 24) emerged from dens in resource rich ranges, whereas the sex ratio on poor ranges was approximately equal (51 females and 56 males). While our observations are also to some extent consistent with the local resource enhancement (LRE) hypothesis (which predicts a bias towards the sex most likely to cooperate with parents), this does not account for the observed spatial variability. © Springer-Verlag 2005.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Publication Date





198 - 206