New Research Papers Note Progress in NEC Conservation

Two recent scientific papers will help inform conservationists’ efforts to strengthen populations of the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to the Northeast.

The first paper looks at gene flow and genetic diversity in both the New England cottontail and the eastern cottontail, two similar species of rabbits whose ranges generally overlap. (Eastern cottontails are not native to the region and were imported in large numbers around the middle of the 20th century.)

“Location and Species Matters: Variable Influence of the Environment on the Gene Flow of Imperiled, Native and Invasive Cottontails” was authored by Thomas J. McGreevy, Sozos Michaelides, Mihajla Djan, Mary Sullivan, Diana Beltran, Bill Buffum, and Thomas Husband. It was published September 21, 2021, in the journal Frontiers in Genetics.

The scientists examined DNA from tissue samples collected by federal and state biologists and zoo personnel from rabbits that originated in three separate areas in New England. The research revealed higher-than-expected genetic diversity in the New England cottontails studied. It also suggested that shrub and wetlands habitats help individual New England cottontails disperse from areas where they were born, spreading their genetic material into nearby areas.

Access the paper HERE.

The second research paper, published in 2021 in the journal Land, is “Addressing the Early-Successional Habitat Needs of At-Risk Species on Privately Owned Lands in the Eastern United States.” Authors are John Litvaitis, Jeffrey Larkin, Darin McNeil, Don Kierstead, and Bridgett Costanzo.

The researchers reviewed the effectiveness of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), a program conducted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The researchers looked at two at-risk species, the New England cottontail and golden-winged warbler, both of which need young forest and shrubland to survive and reproduce. WLFW has helped private landowners create many acres of such habitat over the last decade.

The combination of critical habitat created on both private holdings and public lands is helping to arrest population declines in both the native cottontails and the colorful warblers.

The research examined the challenges of monitoring the effectiveness of WLFW efforts and notes that management strategies and techniques have changed in response to new research into how the two target wildlife species use the newly created habitat.

They write: “Identifying landowner motivations is essential for developing long-term relationships and conservation success.” They also point out that WLFW projects are moving toward “a more holistic ecosystem approach, within which the conservation goals [for] at-risk species are embedded.” Those at-risk species include more than 60 different kinds of Northeastern wildlife, including reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Access the paper HERE.