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Monday, April 16 • 1:40pm - 2:00pm
SYMPOSIA-05: Threats and Uncertainties Facing Fragmented New England Cottontail Metapopulations

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AUTHORS: Adrienne I. Kovach, University of New Hampshire; Amanda E. Cheeseman, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

ABSTRACT: Due to the decline in early successional forests, the New England cottontail has experienced severe population declines and a > 86% range contraction during the latter half of the 20th century. Population declines are ongoing and remnant populations today persist in small, spatially segregated clusters of patches, occupying <10% of the available, shrubland habitat. These populations are typically fragmented by roads, development and large blocks of nonsuitable habitat (e.g., mature forest or open fields). As a result, and despite extensive ongoing conservation efforts, much uncertainty remains about the species status and future population persistence. This talk serves as an introduction to this symposium, aimed at overviewing key threats and remaining uncertainties relevant for successful conservation management. After overviewing the threats that are the focus of this symposium, we summarize the current state of knowledge of cottontail population structure, movement and connectivity, and genetic variation. We integrate population genetic, home range, and dispersal data from across the species’ range. Populations demonstrate consequences of fragmentation and isolation, including low effective population sizes, very limited dispersal, and strong impacts of landscape features that provide barriers to gene flow. Taken together, the data suggest that across the range fragmentation has disrupted the functioning of New England cottontail metapopulations. We discuss these findings with respect to consequences for population viability and we consider the remaining uncertainties for population structure and dispersal of New England cottontails.  

Monday April 16, 2018 1:40pm - 2:00pm EDT
Montpelier A&B