User contribution

Space-time research of foxes and hares in rural areas

18. December 2023


Felicitas Oehler, Johanna Arnold & Janosch Arnold

Wildforschungsstelle des Landes Baden-Württemberg, Landwirtschaftliches Zentrum Baden-Württemberg, Atzenberger Weg 99, 88326 Aulendorf

Universität für Bodenkultur Wien (BOKU), Department für Integrative Biologie und Biodiversitätsforschung, Institut für Wildbiologie und Jagdwirtschaft, Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33, 1180 Wien


Wild animals have to adapt their movements depending on social or ecological circumstances in order to find food or reproduce (Ward & Webster 2016). By analysing movement data, it is possible to make statements about the behaviour of the species under investigation during these times (Handcock et al. 2009).

Due to its diverse forms of social and spatial organization, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is an ideal model organism for investigating the adaptation to new habitats and the associated successful dispersal of this species by analysing its space-time behaviour (Cavallini 1996). While much research has already been conducted on the spatial-temporal habitat use of the urban fox, there are still open questions regarding the detailed spatial-temporal behaviour of the red fox in rural areas (Baker et al. 2007, Marks & Bloomfield 2006). The focus of the study is on the movement behaviour of red foxes in rural areas, their migration behaviour and the influence of various factors on the spatial-temporal behaviour of red foxes. Therefore, we fitted 27 red foxes with GPS collars and collected high-frequency movement data during the migration and mating seasons. In addition, we have genetic material of the tagged individuals analyzed by means of SNP analysis in the SeqIT laboratory (Seq-IT GmbH & Co, Kaiserslautern, Germany) to detect the influence of kinship structures on movement patterns. In order to also include the influence of food availability, fox density and habitat structures in the analysis, we mapped these in the study area. Based on the knowledge gained, the spatial organization, the successful distribution and adaptation of red foxes and the social networks of red foxes can be better understood.

Material and methods


Figure 1:  study site Bettenreute, Fronreute, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland (47°51’18.0″N 9°32’11.8″E). 

The study was conducted in Bettenreute, Fronreute, Germany (47°51’18.0 “N 9°32’11.8 “E) (Fig. 1). A total of 27 red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were tagged with GPS collars (‘Collar 1C’; 170g, e-obs, Grünwald, Germany and ‘Tellus ultra light’, 213g, Followit, Lindesberg, Sweden) in the years 2020 to 2023, of which 19 were male and 8 female. During the migration period, mainly young male foxes were tagged, as according to the literature it is mainly young male foxes that migrate and search for a new territory (Iossa et al. 2008, Walton et al. 2021).

The red foxes were caught and tagged using live traps during the red fox hunting season in Baden-Württemberg (01.09. – 15.02.). The foxes were anaesthetized according to Shilo et al. (2010). GPS points were collected at different frequencies depending on the collar and the season. The GPS data obtained is currently being analysed according to the above-mentioned topics, e.g. to gain information on how the red fox orients itself in a space that is unknown to it (see Fig. 2).


Figure 2: GPS data along a exploration route of a tagged male red fox. The route is approx. 30 km long and shows the movement pattern of the radio-tracked red fox from 09.11. – 13.11.2020.

Study on the brown hare

Furthermore, brown hares (Lepus europaeus) were tagged with e-obs-collar transmitters in the above-mentioned study area. The aim of the study was to determine the spatial-temporal habitat use of brown hares in a conventionally farmed agricultural landscape typical of south-western Germany. The brown hare in particular reacts to changes in the agricultural landscape in its spatial-temporal patterns and the analysis of closely timed GPS data can help to identify and implement long-term management strategies for classic open land dwellers. In a master’s thesis, data from eight tagged brown hares (data collection: November 2020 – February 2023) and habitat mapping were used to determine home range sizes and habitat selection in winter (see Fig. 3) (Würthner 2023). A focus was placed on the use of different land use classes and the distance to those. Habitat use was analysed separately for day and night phases using re-source selection functions. Interindividual characteristics were also presented. For example, the following patterns were identified: During the day, there was a preference for forests and structural elements (hedges, etc.), whereby the direct, immediate surroundings around these were avoided. At night, the brown hares mainly used permanent grassland and arable land. Settlements and roads were avoided regardless of the time of day.

The use of GPS collars enables precise monitoring of the animals’ movement patterns throughout the day. The data collected and insights gained can be used to develop coordinated, long-term management strategies and any further recommendations for action, e.g. for politicians and farmers.


Figure 3: Territory sizes and distances traveled by hares tagged in Upper Swabia.

The animal welfare authorities in Tübingen approved the use of animal tags in accordance with Section 8 (1) TierSchG in conjunction with Sections 31 to 33 TierSchVersV.

List of references

Baker PJ, et al. (2007): Activity patterns of urban red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) reduce the risk of traffic-induced mortality, Behavioral Ecology, 18(4): 716-724.

Cavallini P (1996): Variation in the social system of the red fox, Ethology Ecology & Evolution 8(4): 323-342.

Handcock RN, et al. (2009): Monitoring Animal Behaviour and Environmental Interactions Using Wireless Sensor Networks, GPS Collars and Satellite Remote Sensing,  9(5): 3586-3603.

Iossa G, et al. (2008): Behavioral changes associated with a population density decline in the facultatively social red fox, Behavioral Ecology 20(2): 385-395.

Marks CA and. Bloomfield TE (2006): Home-range size and selection of natal den and diurnal shelter sites by urban red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Melbourne, Wildlife Research  33(4): 339-347.

Shilo Y, et al. (2010): Immobilization of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) with Medetomidine-Ketamine or Medetomidine-Midazolam and Antagonism with Atipamezole, Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 41(1): 28-34, 27.

Walton Z, et al. (2021): Moving far, staying close: red fox dispersal patterns revealed by SNP genotyping, Conservation Genetics 22(2): 249-257.

Ward A and Webster M (2016): Sociality: The Behaviour of Group-Living Animals, Cham, Springer International Publishing: 1-8, 55-87.

Würthner L (2023): Raum-Zeit-Verhalten von Feldhasen (Lepus europaeus) in einem südwestdeutschen Untersuchungsgebiet. Bachelorarbeit an der Universität Freiburg, betreut an der Wildforschungsstelle des Landes BW.



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