A study has shown that red foxes that live in pine forests in the Scottish Highlands eat a lot of dog poop.
Researchers found that dog poop has about the same number of calories as a fox’s wild prey.
But it is much easier to “hunt” when the foxes eat it, especially when there isn’t much wild prey around.
The study said that it had never happened before for one species to eat so much of the waste of another species.
It was found that DNA from domestic dogs was the second most common type of DNA found in fox poop, at about 40%.
Important source of food
Several ideas were put forward as to why this might have happened, such as the fact that fox and dog DNA could have been mixed up because they are so similar.
But in the end, the researchers came to the conclusion that dog poop was an important food source for foxes to use when food was scarce.
They said that dog poop might give foxes an advantage over other animals that compete with them or try to eat them. This is similar to how bird feeders in gardens help some species of birds but push out others.
Dog poop being around and being eaten by wild animals also makes it possible for diseases and parasites to spread and for new pathogens to be introduced.
It also shows how people and their pets can change the behaviour of foxes living in the pine forests of the Cairngorms. In particular, it shows how important it is for dog walkers to properly get rid of dog poop.
Scientists from the University of Aberdeen, the University of Grenoble Alps, Forestry and Land Scotland, and Cairngorms Connect worked together on the study. It was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
It started out by looking at what foxes and pine martens eat to learn more about how the two predators can live together in pine forests even though they eat very similar things.
Cristian Navarro, a co-author of the report and a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, said: “We have never seen so much dog poop being eaten by foxes as we have found.
“Rabbits and other related species are known to eat their own feces, but eating the feces of another species is less common and may be an interaction between wild animals that is not well known.
“Traditional ways of studying diet wouldn’t be able to find this interaction, but by using DNA-based methods, our study found it for the first time. This raises important questions about how human activities affect wildlife.”