The diet of Danish red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in relation to a changing agricultural ecosystem. A historical perspective

Sussie Pagh, Rune Skjold Tjørnløv, Carsten Riis Olesen, Mariann Chriél

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Rodents and especially voles (Microtus agrestis or arvalis) make up the basic diet of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Denmark. As the abundance of voles and mice may have decreased as a result of modern agricultural procedures, this study investigates potential changes in the diet of Danish red foxes over the past 4 decades in relation to a changing agricultural landscape. Our study compares the stomach contents of foxes collected in Jutland during the years 2012–2014 with a similar study from 1965 to 1970. The results show that small rodents occur in the stomachs of foxes with the same frequencies today (73 %) as 40–50 years ago (67 %), while the frequency of European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) has decreased from 7 to 3 % and the frequency of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) has increased from 3 to 18 %. The changes in the occurrence of brown hare and roe deer in the diet of foxes during the past 40 years most probably reflect changes in the populations of the two species. By comparing digitised orthophotos of six agricultural areas (3.5 × 3.5 km) of the past 1974/1975 and present landscapes, it was revealed that the total area of crop fields, small natural habitats, hedgerows and grasslands have remained almost unchanged. However, mean field size has increased by 48 %, and the mean size of small natural habitats has increased by 15 %; meaning that the length of field boundaries and the number of small natural habitats have decreased by 65 and 33 %, respectively. The distance between natural habitats in the cultivated areas has become larger during the past 40 years. Overall, the areas of natural biotopes have remained the same in Denmark during the past 40 years. Field boundaries on the other hand which are known to be important vole habitats have become fewer in the cultivated areas. Despite this, small rodents still occur in high frequencies in the diet of nowadays foxes. As voles are sensitive to fragmentation, narrow stipes of permanent grass should be maintained or even re-established in the cultivated areas to improve life conditions for small rodents and other wildlife.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMammal Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)319-329
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Life Sciences
  • Zoology
  • Fish & Wildlife Biology & Management
  • Animal Ecology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Biomedical and Life Sciences
  • Food
  • Rodents
  • Vole
  • Microtus
  • Game species
  • Roe deer
  • Capreolus capreolus
  • European brown hare
  • Lepus europaeus
  • Partridge
  • Perdix perdix
  • Fragmentation


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