Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biological and Environmental Sciences (MSBES)


Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science

First Advisor

Justin Richard


The vulnerable New England cottontail (NEC, Sylvilagus transitionalis) has lost most of its historic range. Roger Williams Park Zoo (RWPZ) and affiliates created a reintroduction breeding program that breeds wild-caught rabbits and releases the offspring to amplify declining populations. To improve offspring production, a mate choice experiment was conducted that tested the preference of 8 females with 3 males in a pen that allowed visual and olfactory contact with all males simultaneously. The length of time, frequency of visits, female urine markings, number of barrier investigations, and female proximity to each of the males was recorded. These behaviors were used as mate preference proxies. Females were then paired with each breeding male (n = 24 pairings). Correlation between the measures of preference recorded during the mate choice trial and reproductive measures of success was modeled using generalized estimating equations. This model identified the rate in which females visited males during the mate choice trials as significantly correlated with the observation of mounting. Importantly, during the experimental year, RWPZ had the most kits born in a single year (n = 48), with no mate aggression injuries. This study highlights the significance of incorporating mate selection into breeding programs and contributes to our understanding of NEC ecology.

Available for download on Tuesday, March 05, 2024