Survival Depends on Habitat
Why Habitat is So Important
The main threat to the New England cottontail is the loss of its habitat to human development and forest succession.
In the natural development of a woodland, as small trees become larger and taller their leafy crowns knit together and shut off light to the forest floor. This causes low-growing shrubs and other vegetation to die out. It's happening all over the New England cottontail's range. And with fewer acres of low, dense vegetation providing food and protection from predators, this native species' population has plummeted.
Studies have shown that rabbits living in smaller habitat patches (5 acres or less) tend to be in poorer physical condition than those inhabiting larger parcels.
For longterm survival in a given area, a population of 10 rabbits needs at least 25 acres of high-quality young-forest or shrubland.
Scientists, conservationists, land managers, and landowners are working to reverse the New England cottontail’s decline by creating habitat in areas that still hold populations of this native species. Demonstration areas showcase the many different techniques that can be used to create, restore, and manage young forest and shrubland.
The New England cottontail is an "umbrella species." This means that when we make habitat for cottontails, we also make habitat that gets used by many other animals – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even certain insects and plants.
We have changed the landscape of New England, and that hasn't been good for many different kinds of wildlife. Today, we need to do the right thing for our woods and wildlife by taking a more active role in managing land to provide wildlife with critically needed habitat.