Evolution, ecology and conservation—revisiting three decades of Arctic fox population genetic research

  • Karin Norén Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm
  • Love Dalén Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, and Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm
  • Øystein Flagstad Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim
  • Dominique Berteaux Canada Research Chair on Northern Biodiversity and Centre for Northern Studies, Université du Québec á Rimouski, Rimouski
  • Johan Wallén Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm
  • Anders Angerbjörn Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm
Keywords: Glaciations; microevolution; dispersal; adaptation; DNA; Vulpes lagopus


Three decades have passed since the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) was first put into a population genetic perspective. With the aim of addressing how microevolution operates on different biological levels, we here review genetic processes in the Arctic fox at the level of species, populations and individuals. Historical and present dispersal patterns, especially in the presence of sea ice, are the most powerful factors that create a highly homogeneous genetic structure across the circumpolar distribution, with low detectable divergence between the coastal and lemming ecotypes. With dispersal less pronounced or absent, other processes emerge; populations that are currently isolated, for example, because of the lack of sea ice, are genetically divergent. Moreover, small populations generally display signatures of genetic drift, inbreeding, inbreeding depression and, under specific situations, hybridization with domestic fox breeds. Mating system and social organization in the Arctic fox appear to be determined by the ecological context, with complex mating patterns and social groups being more common under resource-rich conditions. In isolated populations, complex social groups and inbreeding avoidance have been documented. We emphasize the value of genetic data to decipher many previously unknown aspects of Arctic fox biology, while these data also raise numerous questions that remain unanswered. Pronounced intraspecific ecological variation makes the Arctic fox an ideal study organism for population genetic processes and the emergence of functional genomics will generate an even deeper understanding of evolution, ecology and conservation issues for several species.


Download data is not yet available.
How to Cite
Norén K., Dalén L., Flagstad Øystein, Berteaux D., Wallén J., & Angerbjörn A. (2018). Evolution, ecology and conservation—revisiting three decades of Arctic fox population genetic research. Polar Research, 36((sup1). Retrieved from https://polarresearch.net/index.php/polar/article/view/2722

Most read articles by the same author(s)