This project will collaborate and run alongside the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) annual monitoring program on arctic fox population in Svalbard. Fur lice in the arctic fox was first identified on Svalbard in 2019 (Buhler et al. submitted). The prevalence at the time was low (approx. 10% of the foxes examined), but has since increased exponentially across the monitored areas,(the NPI RiS project 2091 monitoring arctic foxes in Svalbard) to 70% in the 2021-22 season (Fuglei et al. under development). It is still not known to what extent fur lice infections affects the general health status of arctic foxes and/or the consequences on the insulative properties of their fur that may affect thermal regulation and their winter survival. Abnormal shedding patterns occurring in the foxes in areas which all can pose as large thermal windows in a time where the fur in those areas are important as temperatures are still cold. This project will seek to obtain infrared thermal data of foxes living in the wild (from infrared thermal cameras mounted by breeding dens) allowing fur loss and the resulting heat radiation to be registered in vivo. Secondly, the thermal properties of fox winter fur obtained from licensed hunters, will be examined in the lab, allowing further quantitative conclusions to be drawn about the effect of lice on fur insulation.
The project will mainly be focusing on the field of thermal physiology in arctic animals, but will involve the veterinarian parasitology field point of view with the help of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, and is therefore to some extent an interdisciplinary approach.