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Durham e-Theses
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Sarcoptic mange and the demography of the red fox, Vulpes vulpes

DEVENISH-NELSON, ELEANOR,SARAH (2012) Sarcoptic mange and the demography of the red fox, Vulpes vulpes. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Vertebrate species are managed for many reasons, including their role as economically important predators or as carriers of disease. Successful management depends on the ability to predict the outcome of management actions on a species’ population dynamics. However, uncertainty in the models used to make such predictions can arise from multiple sources, including sampling error in vital rates, intraspecific demographic variation and unknown interspecific interactions. The red fox Vulpes vulpes provides a useful model organism for exploring such uncertainty, because management of this important predator and disease host is often ineffective, despite substantial sampling effort.

By explicitly accounting for sampling error in survival and fecundity, confidence intervals for population growth rates were derived from published point estimates of red fox demographic data. Uncertainty in population growth rates was found to be high, requiring a quadrupling of sampling effort to halve the confidence intervals. Given the often poor justification for the choice of distribution used to model litter size, the influence of probability distributions on population model outcomes was tested. In this first comprehensive evaluation, estimates of quasi-extinction and disease control probabilities for three Canid species were found to be robust to litter size distribution choice.

Demographic analyses of the red fox revealed a medium to fast life history speed and significant survival and fecundity contributions from juveniles to population growth. Intraspecific variation was detected within these spectra of demographic metrics: the first such demonstration for carnivores. Simulated data substitution between fox populations revealed that geographic proximity and similar levels of anthropogenic disturbance did not infer demographic similarity. Considering the sampling effort expended on the red fox, the species appears well-studied; yet, substantial limitations in data collection were identified.

Compartment modelling of a sarcoptic mange outbreak in an urban fox population in Bristol, UK, revealed that disease transmission was frequency-dependent, consistent with contact rates being determined by social interactions rather than by population density. Individual-based modelling suggested that indirect transmission, genetic resistance and long-distance recolonisation were required to replicate the observed rapid spread of mange and subsequent population recovery. Thus, this first attempt to model mange dynamics in this canid provided novel insight into previously uncertain epidemiological and behavioural processes in the transmission of sarcoptic mange in the red fox.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Carnivores, disease ecology, population ecology, uncertainty.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Biological and Biomedical Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Apr 2013 10:45

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