WEIRD & WILD
Arctic Foxes 'Grow' Their Own Gardens
The little carnivores' colorful dens provide veritable oases in the tundra, a new study says
BARROW, ALASKA The underground homes, often a century old, are topped with gardens exploding with lush dune grass, diamondleaf willows, and yellow wildflowers—a flash of color in an otherwise gray landscape.
“These animals are fertilizing and basically growing a garden."
Gardens that create such a stark contrast on the tundra that scientists who recently published the first scientific study on the dens have dubbed the foxes "ecosystem engineers."
These tundra oases are beyond just being postcard beautiful: They boost the Arctic environment.
And that means more food options in a place without many, says Jim Roth of the University of Manitoba, a co-author on the recent study.
Greater plant diversity gives herbivores a spot to forage during short summers, he explains. (See National Geographic photos of Arctic animals.)
“Lots of other species visit these dens,” adds Roth, who has been studying arctic foxes since 1994. “Caribou and other herbivores are attracted to the lush vegetation, and scavengers come looking for goose carcasses.”