Arctic fox dispersal from Svalbard to Canada: one female’s long run across sea ice

  • Eva Fuglei Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Arnaud Tarroux Department of Arctic Ecology, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Argos satellite tracking, blue morph, coastal fox, lemming fox, large-scale movements, Vulpes lagopus


We report the first satellite tracking of natal dispersal by an Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) between continents and High-Arctic ecosystems. A young female left Spitsbergen (Svalbard Archipelago, Norway) on 26 March 2018 and reached Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada, 76 days later, after travelling a cumulative distance of 3506 km, bringing her ca. 1789 km away (straight-line distance) from her natal area. The total cumulative distance travelled during the entire tracking period, starting when she left her natal area on 1 March 2018 and ending when she settled on Ellesmere Island on 1 July 2018, was 4415 km. This is among the longest dispersal events ever recorded for an Arctic fox. Crossing extensive stretches of sea ice and glaciers, the female moved at an average rate of 46.3 km/day ± 41.1 SD. The maximum movement rate was 155 km/day and occurred on the ice sheet in northern Greenland. This is the fastest movement rate recorded for this species. The northernmost location recorded was on the sea ice off northern Greenland at a latitude of 84.7°N. The Arctic fox was of the blue colour morph typical for coastal environments, where Arctic foxes are adapted to food webs without lemmings but with substantial inputs of marine food resources. The Arctic fox settled on Ellesmere Island in a food web with lemmings, thereby switching ecosystems. Our observation supports evidence of gene flow across Arctic regions, including those seasonally bridged by sea ice, found in studies of the circumpolar genetic structure of Arctic fox populations.

View the supplementary animation.

This article has a related Erratum.


Download data is not yet available.


Angerbjörn A., Hersteinsson P. & Tannerfeldt M. 2004. Arctic foxes. Consequences of resource predictability in the Arctic fox—two life history strategies. In D.W. Macdonald & C. Sillero-Zubiri (eds.): Biology and conservation of wild canids. Pp. 163–172. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Assmy P., Fernández-Méndez M., Duarte P., Meyer A., Randelhoff A., Mundy C.J., Olsen L.M., Kauko H.M., Bailey A., Chierici M., Cohen L., Doulgeris A.P., Ehn J.K., Fransson A., Gerland S., Hop H., Hudson S.R., Hughes N., Itkin P., Johnsen G., King J.A., Koch B.P., Koenig Z., Kwasniewski S., Laney S.R., Nicolaus M., Pavlov A.K., Polashenski C.M., Provost C., Rösel A., Sandbu M., Spreen G., Smedsrud L.H., Sundfjord A., Taskjelle T., Tatarek A., Wiktor J., Wagner P.M., Wold A., Steen H. & Granskog M.A. Leads in Arctic pack ice enable early phytoplankton blooms below snow-covered sea ice. Scientific Reports 7, article no. 40850,

Bêty J., Gauthier G., Korpimäki E. & Giroux J.-F. 2002. Shared predators and indirect trophic interactions: lemming cycles and Arctic-nesting geese. Journal of Animal Ecology 71, 88–98,

Bivand R.S., Pebesma E.J. & Gómez-Rubio V. 2008. Applied spatial data analysis with R. New York: Springer.

Braestrup F.W. 1941. A study of the Arctic fox in Greenland. Immigrations, fluctuations in numbers based mainly on trading statistics. Meddelelser om Grønland 131(4). Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels, Commission for Scientific Investigations in Greenland.

Carmichael L.E., Krizan J., Nagy J.A., Fuglei E., Dumond M., Johnson D., Veitch A., Berteaux D. & Strobeck C. 2007. Historical and ecological determinants of genetic structure in Arctic canids. Molecular Ecology 16, 3466–3483,

Chesemore D.L. 1968. Notes on the food habits of the Arctic foxes in northern Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology 46, 1127–1130,

Clobert J., Danchin E., Dhondt A.A. & Nichols J.D. 2001. Dispersal. New York: Oxford University Press.

CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites) 2016. Argos user’s manual. Largo, MD: CLS America.

Eberhardt L.E., Garrot R.A. & Hanson W.C. 1983. Winter movements of Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus, in a petroleum development area. Canadian Field-Naturalist 97, 66–70,

Eberhardt L.E. & Hanson W.C. 1978. Long-distance movements of Arctic foxes tagged in northern Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist 92, 386–389.

Ehrich D., Ims R.A., Yoccoz N.G., Lecomte N., Killengreen S.T., Fuglei E., Rodnikova A.Y., Ebbinge B.S., Menyushina I.E., Nolet B.A., Pokrovsky I.G., Popov I.Y., Schmidt N.M., Sokolov A.A., Sokolova N.A. & Sokolov V.A. 2015. What can stable isotope analysis of top predator tissues contribute to monitoring of tundra ecosystems? Ecosystems 18, 404–416,

Eide N.E., Jepsen J.U. & Prestrud P. 2004. Spatial organization of reproductive Arctic foxes Alopex lagopus: responses to changes in spatial and temporal availability of prey. Journal of Animal Ecology 73, 1056–1068,

Follmann E.H. & Martin P. 2000. Feasibility of tracking Arctic foxes in northern Alaska using the Argos satellite system: preliminary results. Biotelemetry 15, 368–374.

Fuglei E. & Ims R.A. 2008. Global warming and effects on the Arctic fox. Science Progress 91, 175–191,

Fuglei E. & Øritsland N.A. 2003. Energy cost of running in an Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Canadian Field-Naturalist 117, 430–435,

Garrott R.A. & Eberhardt L.E. 1987. Arctic fox. In M. Novak et al. (eds.): Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. Pp. 394–406. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Gaston A.J., Gavrilo M. & Ebert C. 2012. Ice bridging as dispersal mechanism for Arctic terrestrial vertebrates and the possible consequences of reduced sea ice cover. Biodiversity 13, 182–190,

GEBCO 2019. General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans. Accessed on the internet at on 16 April 2019.

Geffen E., Waidyaratne S., Dalén L., Angerbjörn A., Vila C., Hersteinsson P., Fuglei E., White P.A., Goltsman M. & Wayne R.K. 2007. Sea ice occurrence predicts genetic isolation in the Arctic fox. Molecular Ecology 16, 4241–4255,

Hamilton C., Kovacs K., Ims R.A., Aars J. & Lydersen C. 2017. An Arctic predator–prey system in flux: climate change impacts on coastal space use by polar bears and ringed seals. Journal of Animal Ecology 86, 1054–1064,

Hamilton C., Lydersen C., Ims R.A. & Kovacs K. 2015. Predictions replaced by facts: a keystone species’ behavioural responses to declining Arctic sea-ice. Biology Letters 11, article no. 20150803,

Hamilton W.D. & May R.M. 1977. Dispersal instable habitats. Nature 269, 578–581,

Hersteinsson P. & Macdonald D.W. 1996. Diet of Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in Iceland. Journal of Zoology 240, 457–474,

Hijmans R.J. 2018. Raster: geographic data analysis and modeling. R package version 2.8.4. Accessed on the internet at

Ims R.A. & Hjermann D.Ø. 2001. Condition dependent dispersal. In J. Clobert et al. (eds.): Dispersal. Pp. 203–216. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jonsen I. 2016. Joint estimation over multiple individuals improves behavioural state inference from animal movement data. Scientific Reports 6, article no. 20625,

Jonsen I.D., Mills Flemming J. & Myers R.A. 2005. Robust state-space modeling of animal movement data. Ecology 86, 2874–2880,

Lai S., Bêty J. & Berteaux D. 2015. Spatio-temporal hotspots of satellite-tracked Arctic foxes reveal a large detection range in a mammalian predator. Movement Ecology 3, article no. 37,

Lai S., Bêty J. & Berteaux D. 2017. Movement tactics of a mobile predator in a meta-ecosystem with fluctuation resources: the Arctic fox in the High Arctic. Oikos 126, 937–947,

Laidre K.L. & Heide-Jørgensen M.P. 2011. Life in the lead: extreme densities of narwhals Monodon monoceros in the offshore pack ice. Marine Ecology Progress Series 423, 269–278,

Lehner N.S. 2012. Arctic fox winter movement and diet in relation to industrial development on Alaska’s North slope. Master of Science thesis, Faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK.

Lydersen C. & Gjertz I. 1986. Studies of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida Schreber 1775) in its breeding habitat in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Polar Research 4, 57–63,

Nansen F. 1897. Farthest north. London: Gibson Square Books.

Norén K., Carmichael L., Fuglei E., Eide N.E., Hersteinsson P. & Angerbjörn A. 2011. Pulses of movement across the sea ice: population connectivity and temporal genetic structure in the Arctic fox. Oecologia 166, 973–984,

Norén K., Hersteinsson P., Samelius G., Eide N.E., Fuglei E., Elmhagen B., Dalén L., Meijer T. & Angerbjörn A. 2012. From monogamy to complexity: Arctic fox social organization in contrasting ecosystems. Canadian Journal Zoology 90, 1102–1116,

Nybakk K., Kjørstad M., Overskaug K., Kvam T. & Linnell J.D.C., Andersen R., Berntsen F. 1996. Experiences with live-capture and radio collaring of lynx (Lynx lynx) in Norway. Fauna Norvegica Series A 17, 17–26.

Pamperin N.J., Follmann E.H. & Petersen B. 2008. Sea-ice use by Arctic foxes in northern Alaska. Polar Biology 31, 1421–1426,

Prestrud P. 1992. Food habits and observations of the hunting behaviour of Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus, in Svalbard. Canadian Field-Naturalist 106, 225–236.

Pullainen E. 1965. On the distribution and migrations of the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus L.) in Finland. Aquilo Serie Zoologica 2, 25–26.

R Development Core Team 2018. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.

Rioux M.-J., Lai S., Casajus N., Bêty J. & Berteaux D. 2017. Winter home range fidelity and extraterritorial movements of Arctic fox pairs in the Canadian High Arctic. Polar Research 36 Suppl. 1, article no. 11,

Roth J.D. 2002. Temporal variability in Arctic fox diet as reflected in stable-carbon isotopes; the importance of sea ice. Oecologia 133, 70–77,

Smith T.G. 1980. Polar bear predation of ringed and bearded seals in the land-fast sea ice habitat. Canadian Journal of Zoology 58, 2201–2209,

Spreen G., Kaleschke L. & Heygster G. 2008. Sea ice remote sensing using AMSR-E 89-GHz channels. Journal of Geophysical Research—Oceans 113, C02S03,

Tarroux A., Berteaux D. & Bêty J. 2010. Northern nomads: ability for extensive movements in adult Arctic foxes. Polar Biology 33, 1021–1026,

Vacquie-Garcia J., Lydersen C., Biuw M., Haug T., Fedak M.A. & Kovacs K. 2017. Hooded seal Cystophora cristata foraging areas in the northeast Atlantic Ocean—investigated using three complementary methods. PLoS One 12, e0187889,

Vacquie-Garcia J., Lydersen C., Ims R.A. & Kovacs K. 2018. Habitats and movement patterns of white whales Delphinapterus leucas in Svalbard, Norway in a changing climate. Movement Ecology 6, article no. 21,

Vacquie-Garcia J., Lydersen C., Marques T.A., Aars J., Ahonen H., Skern-Mauritzen M., Oien N. & Kovacs K. 2017. Late summer distribution and abundance of ice-associated whales in the Norwegian High Arctic. Endangered Species Research 32, 59–70,

Volodin A.A., Kalashnikova M.V., Klinkova E.S., Goltsman A.M., Goltsman M.E. & Kruchenkova E.P. 2013. Structure of Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus beringensis) colonies in the northern extremity of Bering Island. Biology Bulletin 40, 614–625,

Weeks W. 2010. On sea ice. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.

Wiig O., Derocher A.E. & Belikov S.E. 1999. Ringed seal (Phoca hispida) breeding in the drifting pack ice of the Barents Sea. Marine Mammal Science 15, 595–598,

Wrigley R.E. & Hatch D.R.M. 1976. Arctic fox migrations in Manitoba. Arctic 29, 147–157,
How to Cite
Fuglei E., & Tarroux A. (2019). Arctic fox dispersal from Svalbard to Canada: one female’s long run across sea ice. Polar Research, 38.
Research Articles