Fox hunters needed to become “citizen scientists” to help environmental research

OUTFOXED: Arsenic was used extensively in gold mining operations and researchers want to check fox hair from the Ballarat region to see if it remains in the environment.
OUTFOXED: Arsenic was used extensively in gold mining operations and researchers want to check fox hair from the Ballarat region to see if it remains in the environment.

University researchers have an unusual request for Ballarat residents – they need fox hair to see whether gold mining through the ages is having an environmental impact on wildlife.

The call has been put out for citizen scientists to help a Monash University team combine chemistry and conservation biology to study whether arsenic in the environment is having an impact on wildlife.

“Foxes are an ideal focus species as they are already culled in wide numbers, providing large sample availability,” said researcher Jacqui Wakefield.

Ingested arsenic accumulates in hair, which is why the research team is calling for fox hunters and property owners to provide hair samples. Samples can from any source from fresh to fence to freezer and from any age carcass.

Once the hair samples are analysed, soil samples will be taken from the areas where the foxes were collected and they too will be analysed.

“We know how arsenic has impacted humans and we know there’s still arsenic in the Victorian environment so we need to know if wildlife is being exposed at these levels and whether that could be harmful to them,” Ms Wakefield said.

Arsenic contamination occurs across Australia, but is much higher around gold mining regions. For this reason the team is focusing their research efforts on the regions around Ballarat and Bendigo.

“We would love to work with local communities of the gold mining regions, as not only do members of the public get to engage with science in a practical way, but they help they provide in sourcing fox samples is invaluable. We just couldn’t do it all on our own,” said team member Isobel Campbell.

Anyone interested in participating can contact jrwak1@student.monash.edu