Distribution and habitat features associated with remnant populations of New England cottontails in Maine

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Abstract:

We investigated the distribution and habitat associations of New England cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis; NEC) at the northern edge of their historic range (state of Maine) during the winters of 1999–2000 and 2000–2001. We compared features of regions (>=100 km2), landscapes (multiple home ranges of NEC within 1 km of suitable habitat), and patches (usually <0.1 km2) among sites that were occupied by NEC, occupied by a potential competitor (snowshoe hares, Lepus americanus), or vacant. The current range of NEC in Maine is approximately 1600 km2 versus a recent historic range of 9400 km2 (83% decline). Loss of early-successional forests may explain the decline in abundance but does not explain the pattern of range contraction. Patches occupied by NEC were larger, had a greater density of understory vegetation, and were more frequently associated with idle agricultural lands than vacant patches. Habitats occupied by snowshoe hares were characterized by a greater proportion of forest and a lower density of roads in the surrounding landscape, were more often associated with recent clearcuts, and had a lower density of understory vegetation than sites occupied by NEC. Based on current land-use patterns, remaining populations of NEC in Maine are vulnerable to extirpation.

Nous avons étudié la répartition du lapin de Nouvelle-Angleterre (Sylvilagus transitionalis) et ses associations avec l'habitat le long de la frontière nord de sa répartition traditionelle (Maine) au cours des hivers de 1999–2000 et 2000–2001. Nous avons comparé les caractéristiques des régions (>= 100 km2), des paysages (aires vitales multiples des lapins, à moins de 1 km d'un habitat approprié) et des parcelles (ordinairement <0,1 km2) aux sites occupés par des lapins, à ceux occupés par des compétiteurs potentiels (lièvres d'Amérique, Lepus americanus) et aux sites vacants. La répartition actuelle de ce lapin dans le Maine recouvre environ 1600 km2, alors que sa répartition dans un passé récent recouvrait 9400 km2 (une diminution de 83 %). La disparition de forêts de début de succession peut expliquer la diminution de l'abondance, mais n'explique pas le rétrécissement de l'aire de répartition. Les parcelles occupées par les lapins de Nouvelle-Angleterre sont plus grandes, la végétation des strates inférieures y est plus dense et elles sont plus souvent associées aux terres agricoles en jachère qu'à des terrains dénudés. Les habitats occupés par les lièvres d'Amérique comportent une proportion plus importante de forêts et une moins grande densité de routes dans le paysage environnant; ils sont plus souvent associés à des coupes à blanc récentes et ils possèdent une végétation dans les strates inférieures moins dense que dans tous les habitats occupés par des lapins de Nouvelle-Angleterre. D'après les patterns actuels d'utilisation de l'habitat, le lapin de Nouvelle-Angleterre est menacé d'extinction dans le Maine.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2003

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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