The Desert Kit Fox is the smallest fox in North America, specializing, as its name suggests, in arid areas. It’s a subspecies of the Kit Fox, a part of the dog family along with others like the coyote and the red and grey fox. Kit Foxes range across the southwestern states of Nevada, New Mexico, western Utah, and much of Arizona, inhabiting deserts and dry grasslands.
In California, Desert Kit Foxes inhabit the Sonoran and Mohave deserts. Not a lot is known about their populations there, a fact that significantly contributed to the recently failed petition to list them as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. With human development steadily moving into their sensitive habitats, more information about their populations is needed. The Desert Kit Fox Project aims to do exactly that, specifically studying where they occupy habitat, what makes one particular den site more desirable than another, and how topography, prey, and human disturbances affect them.
Because habitat intrusion stresses the Desert Kit Foxes, the Project will be using a quadcopter drone to go out on aerial surveys, looking for den sites and footprints that will be critical to various population algorithms, as well as information about the desert ecosystem as a whole.
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How do technological advancements impact scientific research? What trends are there in how scientists utilize advancements in general—eg age patterns, geographic patterns, types of projects?
What are useful strategies for engaging the public in understanding science?
What can researchers do to engage the local and extended public in what they’re doing? The Desert Kit Fox Project has a page of “perks” in which public sponsors can match their donation to Project-produced items. These range from postcards and t-shirts to camping trips and desert track plasters, and finally to the actual field equipment itself– including the drone.
What outreach strategies are science laymen most interested in and most likely to respond to? As a member of such a category seeking scientific advancement, owning a drone that once zoomed over California sounds fairly enticing. However, given the price tag, a laminated Project photo sounds like a nice runner-up.