Monash honours students sample fox fur for research project

It’s not a common request, but these Monash University students are looking for help to find dead foxes.

They wouldn’t mind some roadkill either.

Isobel Campbell, Saxbee Affleck and Jacqui Wakefield have asked fox hunters in the Bendigo community to contact them.

The three students are seeking samples for their honours project, investigating whether there is a link between arsenic levels in soil and its concentration in wildlife hair.

The project has already seen them travel throughout Victoria and Tasmania to test roadkill for arsenic. Now, they’re hoping to study foxes in more depth.

It’s Bendigo’s goldmining history that has brought the students to town.

Areas near old gold mines tend to be heavily contaminated by arsenic, providing a valuable source of information for students.

Group member Isobel Campbell is studying chemistry as part of a Bachelor of Science Advanced Global Challenges.

“In old goldmines, when they were mining, arsenic was quite commonly released with the gold, so they tend to be the sites that are the most contaminated,” she said.

A relationship between the arsenic levels in soil and in animals’ fur could have conservation implications for native wildlife.

Foxes are an abundant animal, which means the students can test them to gain as much data as possible for the project.

High concentrations of arsenic can cause death in animals quite quickly. But even low concentrations can give marsupials chronic arsenic poisoning, which can make the animals more vulnerable to predators.

Bandicoots, quolls, numbats and the like are animals of particular concern.

“If you find that arsenic is damaging or harming marsupials, it is something that needs to be cleaned up,” Ms Campbell said.

“Or if you’re releasing animals back into the wild after breeding programs, you need to put them in areas that aren’t risky.”

None of the students are familiar with the Bendigo region, so they’re seeking local knowledge to kickstart their project.

They’re hoping to get in touch with fox hunters, so they can sample both hair and soil to analyse back in the lab.

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