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1.  On the origin of a domesticated species: Identifying the parent population of Russian silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) 
The foxes at Novosibirsk, Russia, are the only population of domesticated foxes in the world. These domesticated foxes originated from farm-bred silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes), whose genetic source is unknown. In this study we examined the origin of the domesticated strain of foxes and two other farm-bred fox populations (aggressive and unselected) maintained in Novosibirsk. To identify the phylogenetic origin of these populations we sequenced two regions of mtDNA, cytochrome b and D-loop, from 24 Novosibirsk foxes (8 foxes from each population) and compared them with corresponding sequences of native red foxes from Europe, Asia, Alaska and Western Canada, Eastern Canada, and the Western Mountains of the USA. We identified seven cytochrome b - D-loop haplotypes in Novosibirsk populations, four of which were previously observed in Eastern North America. The three remaining haplotypes differed by one or two base change from the most common haplotype in Eastern Canada. ΦST analysis showed significant differentiation between Novosibirsk populations and red fox populations from all geographic regions except Eastern Canada. No haplotypes of Eurasian origin were identified in the Novosibirsk populations. These results are consistent with historical records indicating that the original breeding stock of farm-bred foxes originated from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mitochondrial DNA data together with historical records indicate two stages in the selection of domesticated foxes: the first includes captive breeding for ~50 years with unconscious selection for behaviour; the second corresponds to over 50 further years of intensive selection for tame behaviour.
PMCID: PMC3101803  PMID: 21625363
domestication; mitochondrial DNA; phylogeography; red fox; tameness
2.  Explosive vocal activity for attracting human attention is related to domestication in silver fox 
Behavioural processes  2010;86(2):216-221.
Domestication affects behavioral and vocal responses, involved in communication with humans; in particular, those that attract human attention. In this study, we found that silver foxes of Tame strain, experimentally domesticated for a few tenses generation, displayed bursts of vocal activity during the first minute after appearance of an unfamiliar human, that faded quickly during the remaining time of the test, when the experimenter stayed passively before the cage. Distinctively, foxes of Aggressive strain, artificially selected for tenses generations for aggressive behavior toward humans, and the control group of Unselected for behavior silver foxes kept steady levels of vocal activity for the duration of the tests. We found also that Aggressive foxes vocalized for a larger proportion of time than Unselected foxes for all five minutes of the test. We discuss the obtained data in relation to proposal effects of domestication on mechanisms directed to involving people into human-animal interactions and structural similarity between human laughter and vocalization of Tame foxes.
PMCID: PMC3039033  PMID: 21145949
Vulpes vulpes; human-animal interaction; acoustic communication; vocalization; domestication; human-exposure test
3.  Mapping loci for fox domestication: deconstruction/reconstruction of a behavioral phenotype 
Behavior genetics  2010;41(4):593-606.
During the second part of the 20th century, Belyaev selected tame and aggressive foxes (Vulpes vulpes), in an effort known as the “farm-fox experiment”, to recapitulate the process of animal domestication. Using these tame and aggressive foxes as founders of segregant backcross and intercross populations we have employed interval mapping to identify a locus for tame behavior on fox chromosome VVU12. This locus is orthologous to, and therefore validates, a genomic region recently implicated in canine domestication. The tame versus aggressive behavioral phenotype was characterized as the first principal component (PC) of a PC matrix made up of many distinct behavioral traits (e.g. wags tail; comes to the front of the cage; allows head to be touched; holds observer’s hand with its mouth; etc.). Mean values of this PC for F1, backcross and intercross populations defined a linear gradient of heritable behavior ranging from tame to aggressive. The second PC did not follow such a gradient, but also mapped to VVU12, and distinguished between active and passive behaviors. These data suggest that 1) there are at least two VVU12 loci associated with behavior; 2) expression of these loci is dependent on interactions with other parts of the genome (the genome context) and therefore varies from one crossbred population to another depending on the individual parents that participated in the cross.
PMCID: PMC3076541  PMID: 21153916
behavior genetics; domestication; social behavior; Vulpes vulpes; Canis familiaris
4.  Vocalization toward conspecifics in silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) selected for tame or aggressive behavior toward humans 
Behavioural processes  2010;84(2):547-554.
We examined the production of different vocalizations in three strains of silver fox (Unselected, Aggressive, and Tame) attending three kinds of behavior (aggressive, affiliative, and neutral) in response to their same-strain conspecifics. This is a follow up to previous experiments which demonstrated that in the presence of humans tame foxes produced cackles and pants but never coughed or snorted, whilst Aggressive foxes produced coughs and snorts but never cackled or panted. Thus, cackle/pant and cough/snort were indicative of the Tame and Aggressive fox strains respectively toward humans. Wild-type Unselected foxes produced cough and snort toward humans similarly to Aggressive foxes. Here we found that vocal responses to conspecifics were similar in Tame, Aggressive and Unselected fox strains. Both cackle/pant and cough/snort occurred in foxes of all strains. The difference in the use of cackle/pant and cough/snort among these strains toward humans and toward conspecifics suggest that silver foxes do not perceive humans as their conspecifics. We speculate that these vocalizations are produced in response to a triggering internal state, affiliative or aggressive, that is suppressed by default in these fox strains toward humans as a result of their strict selection for tame or aggressive behavior, whilst still remaining flexible toward conspecifics.
PMCID: PMC2873138  PMID: 20123117
Affiliative behavior; Agonistic behavior; Canid-human interaction; Domestication; Vocalization; Vulpes vulpes
5.  Directional Asymmetry in the Limbs, Skull and Pelvis of the Silver Fox (V. vulpes) 
Journal of morphology  2010;271(12):1501-1508.
Directional asymmetry (DA) is a characteristic of most vertebrates, most strikingly exhibited by the placement of various organs (heart, lungs, liver, etc.) but also noted in small differences in the metrics of skeletal structures such as the pelvis of certain fish or sauropsids. We have analyzed DA in the skeleton of the fox (V. vulpes), using ~1,000 radiographs of foxes from populations used in the genetic analysis of behavior and morphology. Careful measurements from this robust data base demonstrate that: 1) DA occurs in the limb bones, the ileum, and ischium and in the mandible; 2) regardless of the direction of the length asymmetry vector of a particular skeletal unit, the vectorial direction of length is always opposite to that of width; 3) with the exception of the humerus and radius, there is no correlation or inverse correlation between vectorial amplitudes or magnitudes of bone asymmetries. 4) Postnatal measurements on foxes demonstrate that the asymmetry increases after birth and continues to change (increasing or decreasing) during postnatal growth. 5) A behavior test for preferential use of a specific forelimb exhibited fluctuating asymmetry but not DA. None of the skeletal asymmetries were significantly correlated with a preferential use of a specific forelimb. We suggest that for the majority of fox skeletal parameters, growth on the right and left side of the fox are differentially biased resulting in fixed differences between the two sides in either the rate of growth or the length of the period during which growth occurs. Random effects around these fixed differences perturb the magnitude of the effects such that the magnitudes of length and width asymmetries are not inversely correlated at the level of individual animals.
PMCID: PMC3057660  PMID: 20862692
fox; V. vulpes; skeleton; directional asymmetry; pelvis; mandible; limb bone
6.  Kind granddaughters of angry grandmothers: the effect of domestication on vocalization in cross-bred silver foxes 
Behavioural processes  2009;81(3):369.
The genetic basis of the effects of domestication have previously been examined in relation to morphological, physiological and behavioural traits, but not for vocalizations. According to Belyaev (1979, Journal of Heredity 70, 301-308), directional selection for tame behaviour toward humans resulted in domestication. This hypothesis has been confirmed experimentally on the farm-bred silver fox Vulpes vulpes population that has undergone 45 years of artificial selection for tameness and 35 years of selection for aggressiveness. These foxes, with their precisely known attitudes toward people, provide a means of examining vocal indicators of tameness and aggressiveness to establish the genetic basis for vocal production in canids. We examined vocalizations toward people in foxes selected for tameness and aggressiveness compared to those of three kinds of crosses: Hybrids (Tame X Aggressive), A-Backcrosses (Aggressive X Hybrid) and T-Backcrosses (Tame X Hybrid). We report the effects of selection for tameness on usage and structure of different vocalisations and suggest that vocal indicators for tameness and aggressiveness toward people are discrete phenotypic traits in silver foxes.
PMCID: PMC2814310  PMID: 19520236
behaviour genetic; canid-human interaction; Canidae; domestication; vocal behaviour; Vulpes vulpes
7.  Chromosomal Mapping of Canine-Derived BAC Clones to the Red Fox and American Mink Genomes 
Journal of Heredity  2009;100(Suppl 1):S42-S53.
High-quality sequencing of the dog (Canis lupus familiaris) genome has enabled enormous progress in genetic mapping of canine phenotypic variation. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes), another canid species, also exhibits a wide range of variation in coat color, morphology, and behavior. Although the fox genome has not yet been sequenced, canine genomic resources have been used to construct a meiotic linkage map of the red fox genome and begin genetic mapping in foxes. However, a more detailed gene-specific comparative map between the dog and fox genomes is required to establish gene order within homologous regions of dog and fox chromosomes and to refine breakpoints between homologous chromosomes of the 2 species. In the current study, we tested whether canine-derived gene–containing bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones can be routinely used to build a gene-specific map of the red fox genome. Forty canine BAC clones were mapped to the red fox genome by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Each clone was uniquely assigned to a single fox chromosome, and the locations of 38 clones agreed with cytogenetic predictions. These results clearly demonstrate the utility of FISH mapping for construction of a whole-genome gene-specific map of the red fox. The further possibility of using canine BAC clones to map genes in the American mink (Mustela vison) genome was also explored. Much lower success was obtained for this more distantly related farm-bred species, although a few BAC clones were mapped to the predicted chromosomal locations.
PMCID: PMC3139363  PMID: 19546120
Canis lupus familiaris; comparative genomics; FISH; Mustela vison; Vulpes vulpes
8.  Genetic regulation of canine skeletal traits: trade-offs between the hind limbs and forelimbs in the fox and dog 
Genetic variation in functionally integrated skeletal traits can be maintained over 10 million years despite bottlenecks and stringent selection. Here, we describe an analysis of the genetic architecture of the canid axial skeleton using populations of the Portuguese Water Dog Canis familiaris) and silver fox (Vulpes vulpes). Twenty-one skeletal metrics taken from radiographs of the forelimbs and hind limbs of the fox and dog were used to construct separate anatomical principal component (PC) matrices of the two species. In both species, 15 of the 21 PCs exhibited significant heritability, ranging from 25% to 70%. The second PC, in both species, represents a trade-off in which limb-bone width is inversely correlated with limb-bone length. PC2 accounts for approximately 15% of the observed skeletal variation, ~30% of the variation in shape. Many of the other significant PCs affect very small amounts of variation (e.g., 0.2–2%) along trade-off axes that partition function between the forelimbs and hind limbs. These PCs represent shape axes in which an increase in size of an element of the forelimb is associated with a decrease in size of an element of the hind limb and vice versa. In most cases, these trade-offs are heritable in both species and genetic loci have been identified in the Portuguese Water Dog for many of these. These PCs, present in both the dog and the fox, include ones that affect lengths of the forelimb versus the hind limb, length of the forefoot versus that of the hind foot, muscle moment (i.e., lever) arms of the forelimb versus hind limb, and cortical thickness of the bones of the forelimb versus hind limb. These inverse relationships suggest that genetic regulation of the axial skeleton results, in part, from the action of genes that influence suites of functionally integrated traits. Their presence in both dogs and foxes suggests that the genes controlling the regulation of these PCs of the forelimb versus hind limb may be found in other tetrapod taxa.
PMCID: PMC2367254  PMID: 18458753
9.  Effects of selection for behavior, human approach mode and sex on vocalization in silver fox 
Journal of ethology  2012;31(1):95-100.
This study presents a first direct comparison of vocal type, call rate and time spent vocalizing among Unselected, Tame and Aggressive strains of silver fox (Vulpes vulpes) in three modes of human approach (Provoking, Approach–Retreat, and Static). Also, it provides a first comparison of male and female vocal output in the Provoking test. Vocal types were found strain-specific irrespective of the fox sex or the test. Males had higher call rates and spent shorter times vocalizing than females. These results support the evidence of genetic-based emotional states, triggering vocal behavior in silver fox strains, and suggest sex dimorphism in vocal activity toward humans.
PMCID: PMC3601802  PMID: 23525128
Call; Domestication; Human approach test; Gender effect; Canidae
10.  The gradual vocal responses to human-provoked discomfort in farmed silver foxes 
Acta ethologica  2010;13(2):75-85.
Vocal indicators of welfare have proven their use for many farmed and zoo animals and may be applied to farmed silver foxes as these animals display high vocal activity toward humans. Farmed silver foxes were selected mainly for fur, size, and litter sizes, but not for attitudes to people, so they are fearful of humans and have short-term welfare problems in their proximity. With a human approach test, we designed here the steady increase and decrease of fox–human distance and registered vocal responses of 25 farmed silver foxes. We analyzed the features of vocalizations produced by the foxes at different fox–human distances, assuming that changes in vocal responses reflect the degrees of human-related discomfort. For revealing the discomfort-related vocal traits in farmed silver foxes, we proposed and tested the algorithm of “joint calls,” equally applicable for analysis of all calls independently on their structure, either tonal or noisy. We discuss that the increase in proportion of time spent vocalizing and the shift of call energy toward higher frequencies may be integral vocal characteristics of short-term welfare problems in farmed silver foxes and probably in other captive mammals.
PMCID: PMC3409671  PMID: 22865950
Welfare; Human–animal interaction; Vocalization; Acoustic analysis; Fur farm animals; Vulpes vulpes
11.  Sequence comparison of prefrontal cortical brain transcriptome from a tame and an aggressive silver fox (Vulpes vulpes) 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:482.
Two strains of the silver fox (Vulpes vulpes), with markedly different behavioral phenotypes, have been developed by long-term selection for behavior. Foxes from the tame strain exhibit friendly behavior towards humans, paralleling the sociability of canine puppies, whereas foxes from the aggressive strain are defensive and exhibit aggression to humans. To understand the genetic differences underlying these behavioral phenotypes fox-specific genomic resources are needed.
cDNA from mRNA from pre-frontal cortex of a tame and an aggressive fox was sequenced using the Roche 454 FLX Titanium platform (> 2.5 million reads & 0.9 Gbase of tame fox sequence; >3.3 million reads & 1.2 Gbase of aggressive fox sequence). Over 80% of the fox reads were assembled into contigs. Mapping fox reads against the fox transcriptome assembly and the dog genome identified over 30,000 high confidence fox-specific SNPs. Fox transcripts for approximately 14,000 genes were identified using SwissProt and the dog RefSeq databases. An at least 2-fold expression difference between the two samples (p < 0.05) was observed for 335 genes, fewer than 3% of the total number of genes identified in the fox transcriptome.
Transcriptome sequencing significantly expanded genomic resources available for the fox, a species without a sequenced genome. In a very cost efficient manner this yielded a large number of fox-specific SNP markers for genetic studies and provided significant insights into the gene expression profile of the fox pre-frontal cortex; expression differences between the two fox samples; and a catalogue of potentially important gene-specific sequence variants. This result demonstrates the utility of this approach for developing genomic resources in species with limited genomic information.
PMCID: PMC3199282  PMID: 21967120

Results 1-11 (11)