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Data: Foxes fertilize the subarctic forest and modify vegetation through denning

Citation

Markham, John; Lang, Jessica; Roth, Jim (2021), Data: Foxes fertilize the subarctic forest and modify vegetation through denning, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5qfttdz4f

Abstract

Ecosystem engineers modify habitats through processes other than trophic interactions, such as by regulating soil nutrients, and can influence resource availability and quality for other organisms. Predator-mediated elemental cycling may be especially important in determining plant diversity and growth in ecosystems where soil fertility and primary productivity are low. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes L.), top predators in the Subarctic, could engineer local ecosystems through denning, which could create biogeochemical hotspots of nutrients due to continual input of feces, urine and prey remains. We examined soil and vegetation characteristics on red fox dens and paired control sites in woodland habitats near the Arctic treeline in Manitoba, Canada. The organic soil layer on den sites had 81% more inorganic nitrogen and 250% more extractable phosphorus than in control areas. Denning also increased soil respiration and pH in the organic layer, suggesting improved soil quality and nutrient availability for plants. By enriching nutrients and disturbing soils through digging, den sites had a higher plant species ß-diversity and a greater cover of erect woody shrubs (Salix spp.), grasses (Leymus mollis (Trinius) Pilger) and weedy ephemerals compared to control sites, resulting in a regional increase in plant species richness. Our research highlights the importance of considering impacts of predators other than through their consumption of prey, and provides insight into the role of red foxes in modifying plant diversity and productivity in the Subarctic.