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Survey Aims to Make Citizen Science More Effective; Sacramento Red Fox May Benefit

October 10, 2012

Red foxes in the Sacramento Valley were long thought to be non-native. However, in 2005 genetic analyses performed in the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine revealed these foxes to be native to the region and potentially in decline.

These discoveries set off a joint effort by UC Davis and the California Department of Fish and Game to characterize the extent of the foxes' range and potential interbreeding with non-native red fox populations to the south. Led by Dr. Ben Sacks, assistant adjunct professor and director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Group of the genetics laboratory, this project relied on citizen science, the centerpiece of which was an online reporting system for the public to communicate red fox sightings.


From 2007 through 2009, more than 400 reports were submitted by the public. The data were instrumental in locating 51 fox dens mapped throughout the Sacramento Valley and, ultimately, in advancing the foxes' conservation priority, currently under consideration as a California Mammal Species of Special Concern.


Now, the citizen science that was central to the 2007-2009 red fox study is itself the topic of a masters degree project being conducted by Amy Brasch, a UC Davis alumna. She is collaborating with her adviser, Dr. Heiko Wittmer, a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand with an adjunct affiliation in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis; and with Dr. Sacks. They seek a fuller understanding of factors affecting public participation in scientific studies. The aim is to utilize citizen science effecitively in future research and to increase the educational value of participation for members of the public.

To accomplish this, Ms. Brasch designed a web-based survey that she is asking the public to visit. It is not necessary to have seen a Sacramento Valley red fox to take the survey. Please visit the site, which is linked to the original survey website, The survey takes about five minutes.

The findings of this study will be used immediately to enhance the reporting website. The reporting site itself will be re-launched in January 2013 for the second phase of the Sacramento Valley red fox study, which will extend through 2016. This next phase, which will focus on better understanding the habitat needs and current abundance of the Sacramento Valley red fox, represents a continuation in the collaborative effort among UC Davis, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory provides animal parentage verification, identification, forensics services, genetic diagnostics and genetic disease research as a self-supporting unit of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. The laboratory is internationally recognized as a pioneer and expert in DNA-based animal testing. The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory also offers an extensive animal forensic services program, diagnostic tests for genetic diseases, and support for genetic research in domestic species, primates and wildlife, including the work of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Group.

Media contacts:

Dr. Ben Sacks, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine/Veterinary Genetics Laboratory

Ms. Amy Brasch

Dr. Heiko Wittmer, Victoria University