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Advisor: Dr. Clayton K. Nielsen
Ecology of the Swamp Rabbit and Eastern Cottontail in Early-Successional Habitats in Southern Illinois
Lagomorph populations have experienced significant declines in Illinois over the last half-century due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Swamp rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus) exist at the northern fringe of their range in southern Illinois, occupying bottomland hardwood forests along the Cache, Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Population declines within the last century have been linked to conversion of bottomland hardwood forests to agriculture and timber harvest. The eastern cottontail has also experienced declines throughout Illinois, owing to the loss of early-successional habitats largely due to modern intensive farming practices. Previous work suggests that early successional habitats are important to both eastern cottontails and swamp rabbits in southern Illinois, but the impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation, interspecific competition, and increased predation pressure in these dwindling habitats remains relatively unclear. To that end, my research seeks to identify factors that influence habitat use and survival in swamp rabbits and cottontails where they co-occur. To accomplish this, I will delineate home ranges, identify habitat selection, and estimate cause-specific mortality for both species in early-successional bottomlands along the Cache River and its tributaries. This work will provide managers with recommendations that benefit both species as well as further our understanding of the ecology of lagomorphs in sympatry.
B.S., M.S., Eastern Illinois University