Survival and habitat use of sympatric lagomorphs in bottomland hardwood forests

Joanne C. Crawford, C. K. Nielsen, E. M. Schauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Lagomorphs are important consumers and prey in ecosystems worldwide, but have declined due to land use changes and habitat loss, and such losses may be exacerbated for specialist species. We compared survival and habitat use of two closely related lagomorphs, the swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus (Bachman, 1837)), a bottomland hardwood (BLH) forest specialist, and the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus (J. A. Allen, 1890)), a habitat generalist. We tested whether survival and habitat use differed between radio-collared swamp rabbits (n = 129) and eastern cottontails (n = 72) monitored during December 2009 – December 2013 in southern Illinois. We found interactive effects of species and season on survival rates: swamp rabbits had higher annual survival (0.37 ± 0.05 (estimate ± SE)) than did cottontails (0.20 ± 0.05), but this difference occurred primarily during the growing season. Swamp rabbits were located closer to watercourses in areas characterized by higher basal area and more mature BLH forest cover compared with eastern cottontails. Our results suggest that BLH forests may be marginal habitat for cottontails and indicate predation as the primary cause of mortality for both species. Swamp rabbits use of early-successional BLH forest suggests that restoration efforts have been successful. However, as specialists, swamp rabbits remain restricted to a narrow band of bottomlands near watercourses and may benefit from improved upland cover that serves as refugia from flooding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-722
Number of pages10
JournalCanadian journal of zoology
Volume96
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Bottomland hardwood forest
  • Eastern cottontail
  • Habitat
  • Predation
  • Survival
  • Swamp rabbit
  • Sylvilagus aquaticus
  • Sylvilagus floridanus
  • Sympatry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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