A research project on the endangered San Joaquin kit fox conducted by a group of California State University, Stanislaus scientists and collaborators at the Smithsonian Institution has been recognized with a prestigious award by the Southwestern Association of Naturalists.
The Arkansas-based conservation organization awarded the 2007 George Miksch Sutton Award in Conservation Research to a seven-member scientific team that included Dr. Patrick Kelly, CSU Stanislaus Professor of Zoology and Coordinator of the University's Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP); Dr. Dan Williams, retired CSU Stanislaus Professor of Zoology and founder and former coordinator of the ESRP; and Dr. Brian Cypher, ESRP Associate Director and Research Ecologist who directs the University program's Bakersfield office. The project was led by Dr. Deborah Smith of Hughson, a founding partner of the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation, toward completion of her Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Dr. Katherine Ralls and Dr. JesÃºs Maldonado of the Smithsonian Institution and Howard Clark Jr., formerly a wildlife biologist with ESRP, were also actively involved in the research.
Called the Scent Dog Survey Project and partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the study describes the use of dogs trained to find and discriminate between scats (fecal droppings) of various canid species (foxes and coyotes). Using DNA analysis of the scats, the team was able to assess the current regional distribution of the San Joaquin kit fox, which was declared federally endangered in 1967. Kelly said the specially trained conservation dogs have proven to be a particularly powerful tool in helping to locate rare and/or endangered species, including plants, and their predators, such as coyotes.
ESRP personnel have made the San Joaquin kit fox the focus of much of their wide-ranging environmental research activities, since actions to bolster its numbers are expected to benefit many other animals and plants over the long run.
"The study gave us more information to work with in determining the current distribution of the San Joaquin kit fox and coming up with effective conservation strategies to preserve habitat and help in their recovery," said Cypher, who has completed and supervised many kit fox studies over the years. He said the kit fox population that once ranged over much of the San Joaquin Valley now appears to be concentrated in eastern San Luis Obispo County, western Kern County, and north to the Santa Nella area of Merced County.