This is a pilot project that builds upon ongoing research at the Norwegian Polar Institute in which annual monitoring of the arctic fox population in Svalbard is being carried out. The project manager requires access to the trapped fox carcasses prior to skinning to take photos and to describe any fur changes as well as check for the presence of lice in the fur. After skinning the furs with lice, that are not suitable for sale, will be transported to Tromsø for further in depth investigation.
Laboratory investigation will include further describing the changes to the fur (reduced density, shortened length, broken hairs, colour changes) and to the skin (hypermia, exudates, signs of excoriation, hyperkeratosis, hyperplasia, infection). In addition a standardised set of skin biopsies will be taken to estimate the burden of lice in the surface area of the biopsies and then extrapolate to estimate total louse burden in the fox as a whole. Skin biopsies will also be fixed in formalin to analyse any histopathological changes to the cells in the skin as a result of different lice burdens.
The extent of fur and skin changes as well as the distribution of change will be modelled against the louse burdens for the different areas of the body to see how changing louse burdens impact fur quality and skin pathology. The pelts used in this project will also be used for further study in a concomitant project lead by UiT Norway's Arctic University looking at the impact that lice infection has on thermoregulatory capabilities of the fur.