Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Thomas P. Husband

Abstract

The population of the northeast region’s native rabbit, the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis; NEC), has declined by more than 80% in the last 50 years. In 2006, it was listed as a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 2010, a captive breeding program was developed to help reverse this trend, and islands were identified as having the potential to serve as ideal release sites for captive-bred NEC. Two islands were chosen as possible release sites: Nomans Land Island National Wildlife Refuge in Chilmark, Massachusetts; and Patience Island, located in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. To evaluate their suitability as release sites, an intensive habitat analysis was conducted on each island. The major habitat types on Patience Island also were delineated manually. To inform future releases of NEC on islands, an impact assessment was conducted on Penikese Island, which is known to have hosted previously a population of introduced cottontails. A pilot release of NEC was conducted on Patience Island and the population was monitored using radiotelemetry from April 2012 to February 2013. Rabbit locations were triangulated and home ranges were calculated using an adaptive kernel density estimator. The impact assessment on Penikese Island yielded inconclusive results, but the results of the habitat analysis on Patience Island and Nomans Land Island NWR indicate that both islands are well-suited to support a population of NEC. Survivability was high on Patience Island, and all rabbits spent the majority of their time in bramble-vine thicket and mixed forest habitats. My findings indicate that islands could play a significant role in the recovery of NEC, and releasing NEC on islands should be strongly considered as a management strategy to help preclude the need for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Share

COinS