Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


The swift fox (Vulpes velox), a native species once abundant throughout the Northern Great Plains (NGP), has declined due to changes in land use, historic predator eradication programs, and predation by larger canid species. Currently, the species is estimated to occupy 44% of its historic range. In the NGP, the status of the swift fox varies by state, ranging from furbearer to endangered species. However, knowledge of the current status of swift foxes in the NGP is lacking due to an absence of systematic population monitoring. Improving the current state of knowledge concerning swift fox populations in the NGP is necessary to assess the population status of the species and will be instrumental in assisting managers in conservation and, if needed, restoration of this rare species. The swift fox is considered rare in North Dakota and state threatened in South Dakota. We evaluated the distribution of swift fox, red fox (Vulpes vulpes), and coyote (Canis latrans) populations, investigated ecology and life history of swift fox, and assessed disease risk and genetic diversity of resident swift foxes in northwest South Dakota and southwest North Dakota. To accomplish these objectives, we first conducted a systematic camera-trap survey to assess occupancy and distribution of swift fox, coyotes, and red fox. Using camera trap detections and anecdotal sightings, we livetrapped, radio-collared, and tracked swift foxes to locate den sites to assess den site habitat selection. Using samples collected during camera-trap surveys and radio-collaring, we conducted disease and genetic diversity analyses. We conducted occupancy and distribution models at two different scales (sympatric canids: double-home range, 6.68 km, and home range, 3.34 km; swift fox: sub-home range, 30 m, and home range, 3.34 km); both scales created overfit models, producing inaccurate distribution maps for swift fox. Therefore, we do not suggest using either of these models for management purposes. However, we found that coyotes occupied 63-69% of the study area while red fox occupied 46-53% of the study area. We documented average litter sizes (3.25 pups), large home ranges (55.38 km2), late dispersal (February), large dispersal distances (17.20 km), high survival (0.857), and found dens farther from roads than other studies, with no correlation between den-site location and vegetation height. We also found high prevalence of canine parvovirus (71.43%) and Francisella tularensis (67.74%), but low prevalence of canine distemper virus (10.34%) and Yersinis pestis (3.32%). The high prevalence of canine parvovirus and exposure to canine distemper are cause for concern, due to their typically highly fatal outcomes. This swift fox population occupying northwestern South Dakota and southwestern North Dakota is genetically viable, with high intrapopulation connectivity and no sign of a genetic bottleneck. Our study is the first of its kind in northwest South Dakota and southwest North Dakota and most of our findings can and should be used in future monitoring, conservation, and restoration plans for this native species in the Dakotas.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Kit fox -- South Dakota.
Kit fox -- North Dakota.
Kit fox -- Ecology -- South Dakota.
Kit fox -- Ecology -- North Dakota.
Kit fox -- South Dakota -- Geographical distribution.
Kit fox -- North Dakota -- Geographical distribution.
Kit fox -- Diseases -- Risk factors -- South Dakota.
Kit fox -- Diseases -- Risk factors -- North Dakota.
Kit fox -- South Dakota -- Genetics.
Kit fox -- North Dakota -- Genetics.


Includes bibliographical references



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright