ESR 27:31-41 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00649

Non-invasive baseline genetic monitoring of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox on a photovoltaic solar facility

Tammy R. Wilbert1,2,*, Deborah A. (Smith) Woollett3, Alice Whitelaw3, Jason Dart4, Joseph R. Hoyt1, Spencer Galen1, Katherine Ralls1, Daniel E. Meade4, Jesús E. Maldonado1,5

1Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA
2Environmental Science & Policy, George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
3Working Dogs for Conservation, 52 Eustis Road, Three Forks, MT 59752, USA
4Althouse & Meade Inc., 1602 Spring St., Paso Robles, CA 93446, USA
5Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20013, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Survival of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes Vulpes macrotis mutica is challenged by reduced and fragmented habitat resulting from anthropogenic uses. We monitored kit foxes on the 40 km2 proposed site for the Topaz Solar Farms (TSF) in San Luis Obispo County, California, which consisted of 76% agricultural fields and 24% grasslands. Prior to construction of the solar facility in December 2011, we used professionally trained dog-handler teams to conduct non-invasive genetic surveys annually from 2009 to 2011. We analyzed mtDNA to identify species, zinc finger genes for sex determination, and microsatellite loci to define individuals. We identified 45 individuals from 351 fresh scat samples (26 females, 18 males, and 1 individual of unknown sex), and recaptured 5 individuals between years. Kit foxes predominantly used the grasslands and rarely used agricultural fields. Samples from the TSF population had similar levels of genetic diversity to 2 areas less than 20 km away in the northern end of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Capwire and LDNe estimates of population size using samples collected during annual November surveys indicated that ~33 individuals used the TSF over a 3 yr period. The relatively high population estimate, low recapture rates, and similar genetic diversity to 2 nearby locations suggest that individuals using the TSF site are part of a larger population using the surrounding landscape. Our study provided baseline data that, when coupled with future surveys, will help assess the effects on San Joaquin kit foxes of solar facility construction and habitat regeneration on agricultural lands removed from production.


KEY WORDS: Non-invasive surveys · Solar facility · Monitoring · Endangered species · Kit fox · Vulpes macrotis mutica · Detection dog · Scat


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Cite this article as: Wilbert TR, Woollett DA, Whitelaw A, Dart J and others (2015) Non-invasive baseline genetic monitoring of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox on a photovoltaic solar facility. Endang Species Res 27:31-41. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00649

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