Noninvasive survey methods based on analyzing DNA extracted from feces can be useful for carnivores that are difficult to study by other methods. Changes in fecal deposition patterns associated with reproduction in kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis) might affect results of such surveys. We used a trained dog to collect fresh scats on 2-km transects in the home ranges of 11 radiocollared female kit foxes in January, February, and March 2008 and determined sex of the individual that deposited the scats by amplifying the zinc finger protein gene. Female foxes give birth in mid-February to mid-March. We found a similar number of scats each month. In January, the sex ratio of the scats was not different from the expected 1∶1. However, in February there were almost 2 male scats for every female scat and in March there were >8 male scats for every female scat. Comparing March to January, there were more male scats on all 11 transects and fewer female scats on 10 of 11 transects. Around the time pups are born, both sexes appear to show changes in fecal deposition patterns that make it easier to find male scats and harder to find female scats. Effects of these changes on survey results will vary depending on the purpose and design of the survey. Surveys to determine distribution and relative abundance would probably not be negatively affected by these changes. However, if surveys to estimate abundance are conducted during the reproductive season, they could result in an underestimate of population size unless the increased heterogeneity in scat detectability is taken into account.
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