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Home Range and Movements of the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit in a Highly Fragmented Habitat

Elizabeth A. Forys, Stephen R. Humphrey
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1382784 1042-1048 First published online: 15 November 1996

Abstract

The endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) occurs in a highly fragmented habitat in the Lower Keys of Florida. A primary goal in recovering this subspecies is understanding how individuals interact in this patchy landscape. Home range and movements of marsh rabbits were studied to determine if rabbits are confined within a habitat patch (relictual population), spend most of their lives in a patch but are capable of moving between patches (metapopulation), or regularly move between habitat patches (patchy population). Radiotelemetry data were obtained from 43 rabbits representing all age and sex classes. Seven collared juvenile rabbits remained in their natal patches of habitat until the onset of sexual maturity. All of the collared subadults (five of the surviving juveniles and 12 rabbits collared as subadults) made a relatively long, one-way movement. Ten of the males moved to new patches; all but one of the females remained in their natal patches. After establishing a home range, each of the adult rabbits (12 collared as juveniles or subadults and 11 collared as adults) remained in one patch of habitat until their deaths. These results indicate that S. p. hefneri exists as a metapopulation. Conservation efforts should be aimed at protecting both the rabbit's marsh habitat and the lower-mangrove and upland-forest-corridor habitats used during dispersal.

Key words
  • Sylvilagus palustris hefneri
  • home range
  • dispersal
  • fragmentation
  • metapopulation