Research Project | 2023

Impacts of domestic dogs on gray fox behaviors in the Santa Monica Mountains

maddieAwardee: Madeleine Zuercher

Bio: Maddie is a PhD candidate advised by Greg Grether and Debra Shier in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She received her BS in Environmental Sciences and BA in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley in 2019. Prior to her doctoral work, she researched bat ecology and the evolution of flying fox dental morphology. Maddie now studies how invasive species affect native carnivore behavior and ecology, with field sites in the Santa Monica Mountains and Isla Espíritu Santo in Mexico. She is passionate about mentorship and conservation. Eventually Maddie wishes to pursue conservation-applied research in academia, partnering with local parks and management.

Project: Gray fox populations are declining due to deforestation and urban development. In the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, they are found in parks with various types of human activity including dog-walking, which has the potential to strongly affect fox ecology. Dogs and foxes communicate in the same way: by scent. Dog scent may attract foxes, increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife interactions, or foxes may avoid these regions, further limiting available habitat. Behavior around dogs may also be affected by past exposure. In my camera trap study, I will experimentally introduce dog scent in parks where dogs are permitted and not permitted. Variation in fox behaviors at these sites will reveal how dogs interfere with fox ecology and help us understand the plasticity of fox behavior in urban areas.