This is an international cross-disciplinary project. Our team consists of an early-career evolutionary biologist, a scientific journalist, and the leading fox expert in Iceland. We are brought together by a common goal to assess the impacts of anthropogenic pollutants. What we find may tell us if the pollution in the ocean is making its way back onto land and into the bodies of Icelandic residents.
Collaborators: Madison Bradley, Megan Perra, Ester Unnsteinsdóttir
For more information see: icelandfox.com
Abstract: This project uses the Icelandic Institute of Natural History’s archival collection of arctic fox mandibles donated by hunters and meticulously curated by Ester Unnsteinsdóttir. These lower jaws have been preserved over thirty years from two Icelandic fox populations (inland and coastal) along with information about the fox’s life history and geographic origin. Paired elements, like two halves of a mandible, within a single body should be mirrored. While no organism is perfectly symmetrical due to developmental messiness, drastic asymmetries from one paired element to another can indicate individual developmental stress. If an entire population is asymmetrical it can mean there is some larger problem significant enough to have a population-wide impact. Coastal arctic foxes are an apex predator of a seafood-based food web tainted with noxious biopollutants. For this reason, we hypothesize that the coastal arctic fox population will have a higher asymmetry resulting from being exposed to those biopollutants during their development. Ultimately, we are testing whether human impact in the form of biopollutants is correlated with developmental errors in this charismatic and iconic arctic species.