Two New NEC Science Papers Published

Two recently published scientific papers by wildlife biologist Amanda Cheeseman and her colleagues report on longterm studies carried out on New England cottontails in eastern New York State.

New England cottontail in blue blanket

New England cottontail captured and outfitted with a radio, which will let biologists track its movement and behavior in thick habitat./A. Cheeseman

According to Cheeseman, “Our work on effective population size and population connectivity of New England cottontail populations in New York was recently published in Conservation Genetics.” The findings suggest that New York NEC populations, much like those in New Hampshire and Maine, “are small, highly fragmented, and susceptible to continued declines without intervention,” Cheeseman reports.

Because scientists heretofore had considered populations in eastern New York to be among the larger remnant populations of this beleaguered species, these findings should be of great interest to conservationists and land managers working to safeguard the New England cottontail across its six-state range. Cheeseman says the results reported in the paper “highlight the need for more in-depth examination of population size and structure rangewide.”

The paper is titled “Hierarchical Population Structure of a Rare Lagomorph Indicates Recent Fragmentation Has Disrupted Metapopulation Function.” It can be viewed here.

Cheeseman and her colleagues also published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Zoology reporting on the results of a study on home ranges of New England cottontails and closely related eastern cottontails, nonnative rabbits that, in many places, compete with New England cottontails for food and cover.

Notes Cheeseman: “This is the first published information on home range of New England cottontails and may help inform minimum-patch-size guidelines” used by habitat managers designing and carrying out habitat creation and improvement projects in focus areas where the species lives.

Research results suggest that the minimum patch size for a New England cottontail should exceed 7 hectares (slightly over 17 acres) to satisfy most of an individual’s space needs. The researchers write that “predation risk to New England cottontails may be minimized in patches greater than 20 ha” (approximately 50 acres).

“Increasing shrub density within small patches could allow cottontails to meet their space needs,” the researchers conclude. “Nonetheless, most shrubland creation projects on private lands in the northeastern United States are of insufficient size to support New England cottontails. Future management efforts should work toward creation of larger patches,” something that, the researchers note, “may require cooperation among multiple private landowners.”

The publication is titled “Determinants of Home-Range Size of Imperiled New England Cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and Introduced Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus).” Readers can access it here.

Cheeseman is currently a Theodore Roosevelt Postdoctoral Scholar working at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), 407 Illick Hall, 1 Forestry Drive, Syracuse NY 13210.

Those interested in receiving a PDF of Cheeseman’s recent papers can email a request to her at acheesem@syr.edu.