Tree Cover Helps Gray Foxes Coexist With Coyotes in the Country

by Laura Oleniacz, North Carolina State University
March 21, 2022

As coyotes have spread outside their native range into the eastern United States, they’ve been known to harass and kill North Carolina’s two native species of fox. A new study finds that preserving tree cover may be essential in helping the gray fox survive with coyotes in rural areas, probably because of the fox’s unusual ability to climb trees.

In the study, researchers used camera traps to find out where gray foxes coexist with coyotes in suburban, rural or wild areas of North Carolina. Surprisingly, they found gray foxes can coexist with coyotes in suburban forest fragments. However, in rural zones, they avoid areas where coyotes live that lack adequate tree cover.

“Coyotes are well known to persecute smaller foxes,” said study co-author Roland Kays, research associate professor at North Carolina State University and director of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Biodiversity & Earth Observation Lab. “They go out of their way, more than you see in other interactions between species, to really bully, chase and kill the smaller foxes. There is some reason for concern if this species is going to survive. How is that going to happen in an urban environment where you also have people?”

Coyotes have spread across North America from their native range in parts of the western United States, taking advantage of the fact that larger predators – such as cougars and wolves – aren’t found in most of the eastern U.S. anymore.

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