Decline of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations in Illinois has been attributed to altered geographic landscapes and the eastward expansion of the coyote. To investigate effects of habitat use and competition with coyotes on diets of foxes in intensively farmed landscapes of Illinois, we analyzed carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) of foxes, coyotes (Canis latrans), and other local species. Foxes were categorized as rural (agricultural habitat, coyotes present), urban (urban habitat, coyotes absent), or from an agricultural research facility at the University of Illinois (South Farms, agricultural habitat, coyotes absent). Rural foxes had higher fur isotopic values (δ13C and δ15N) than rural coyotes, indicating that coyotes caused foxes to consume prey items from higher trophic levels and eat more C4 plants. Urban foxes had lower isotopic values (δ13C and δ15N) than South Farms foxes, suggesting that habitat use partly determined fox diets; foxes in urbanized habitats consumed prey at lower trophic levels within a largely C3 plant based food web. Models of competitive exclusion by coyotes were better predictors of fox long-term diets, including pup rearing, while habitat use models predicted fox diets on a narrower timescale. Competitive exclusion by coyotes might be an important factor explaining the decline of foxes in the intense farming areas of Illinois.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology