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The University of Alicante concludes that the black foxes from Mariola are a mutation


Alicante, 24 January 2012

The black foxes which appeared recently in the Sierra de Mariola have arisen from a mutation, as a study at the University of Alicante has completed. However, it rules out that they constitute a distinct sub-species of the red fox, or even another species.

This research, which included genetic studies of this nature park foxes, was carried out after just over one year ago when it was observed for the first time. It has been directed by Antonio Belda, researcher at the Department of Earth Sciences and Environment, with the participation of molecular genetist and bio computer programmer Eduardo Larriba, from the Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology.

The researchers, both from the UA Institute Ramon Margalef (IMEM), have found that black fox population, the only one with this kind of fur found in Spain, is located in the Mariola reserve, the one of the highest environmental quality. The findings of this project, carried out within the regional Government's programme for emerging research groups which has received support from the Institute Gil Albert, have been presented at a recent national conference.

The discovery of the first black fox came by chance in a previous project developed by Antonio Belda a couple of years ago to study the mammalian carnivores of this natural area. It consisted og dividing the area of 17,400 hectares in 64 virtual grids in each of which a pair of cameras for motion-sensitive camera traps were placed. One of the photographs showed surprisingly a specimen of the black-coated fox. Today researchers have already detected 8 of them.

Unlike black foxes, only found in the heart of the most environmentally protective and best preserved mountains, with well developed vegetation, the normal coloration foxes live in the rest of the area, even in urbanized rural areas.

In this genetic research, scientists placed hair traps, ie, wires with which the animal must necessarily rub to get bait for those who which they used sardines in oil, almonds, carrion .... Upon the obtaining of this material, they proceeded to its molecular laboratory study to compare the genetic structure of both black and red specimens.

The conclusions are that they do not constitute a distinct sub-species or even another species, only one variety. Studying the mitochondrial DNA in a gene associated with hair color a sequence of about 400 of their pairs, they found only a concrete difference in one of those bases.

The origin of this change responds, according to the researchers belief, a spontaneous mutation source, since the environmental purity of this integral protection area rules out those artificially induced, for example by toxic waste. They hope to perform a project in the future to expand the study so that to detail the differences in the genome of individuals in both populations.


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