Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Sylvilagus floridanus

Introductory

WILDLIFE SPECIES: Sylvilagus floridanus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Sullivan, Janet. 1995. Sylvilagus floridanus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ []. Revisions: 18 July 2013: DeGraaf, Richard M.; Rudis, Deborah D. 2001 citation corrected to DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 2001. ABBREVIATION : SYFL COMMON NAMES : eastern cottontail cottontail rabbit Florida cottontail TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for eastern cottontail is Sylvilagus floridanus (J. A. Allen) [9,10,28,48]. Chapman and others [10] listed 35 accepted subspecies, the majority of which occur in Mexico. It has been remarked that extensive transplantation of eastern cottontails throughout this century has rendered subspecific designations somewhat meaningless, particularly in eastern North America. The type subspecies locale is Florida [11]. ORDER : Lagomorpha CLASS : Mammal FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

WILDLIFE SPECIES: Sylvilagus floridanus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The eastern cottontail range extends from the Great Plains and throughout the eastern United States and extreme southern Canada south through eastern Mexico and central America and west into parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona [17,27]. Transplanted eastern cottontails have established large breeding populations in Washington and Oregon [48]. The range of eastern cottontail overlaps those of six other cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.) and six species of hares (Lepus spp.) [10]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White-red-jack pine FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES30 Desert shrub FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie STATES :
AL AZ AR CO CT DE FL GA IL IN
IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS
MO MT NE NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH
OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX VT VA
WA WV WI WY MB ON PQ SK YT
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 5 Columbia Plateau 7 Lower Basin and Range 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K005 Mixed conifer forest K010 Ponderosa shrub forest K011 Western ponderosa forest K019 Arizona pine forest K022 Great Basin pine forest K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland K024 Juniper steppe woodland K027 Mesquite bosque K032 Transition between K031 and K037 K041 Creosotebush K042 Creosotebush-bursage K044 Creosotebush-tarbush K045 Ceniza shrub K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna K060 Mesquite savanna K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass K065 Grama-buffalograss K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalograss K069 Bluestem-grama prairie K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K077 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie K081 Oak savanna K083 Cedar glades K086 Juniper-oak savanna K088 Fayette prairie K093 Great Lakes spruce-fir forest K094 Conifer bog K095 Great Lakes pine forest K096 Northeastern spruce-fir forest K097 Southeastern spruce-fir forest K099 Maple-basswood forest K102 Beech-maple forest K103 Mixed mesophytic forest K104 Appalachian oak forest K105 Mangrove K107 Northern hardwoods-fir forest K108 Northern hardwoods-spruce forest K110 Northeastern oak-pine forest K111 Oak-hickory-pine forest K112 Southern mixed forest K113 Southern floodplain forest K114 Pocosin K115 Sand pine scrub SAF COVER TYPES : 1 Jack pine 14 Northern pin oak 15 Red pine 16 Aspen 17 Pin cherry 18 Paper birch 19 Gray birch-red maple 20 White pine-northern red oak-red maple 21 Eastern white pine 22 White pine-hemlock 23 Eastern hemlock 24 Hemlock-yellow birch 25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch 26 Sugar maple-basswood 27 Sugar maple 28 Black cherry-maple 35 Paper birch-red spruce-balsam fir 40 Post oak-blackjack oak 42 Bur oak 43 Bear oak 44 Chestnut oak 45 Pitch pine 46 Eastern redcedar 50 Black locust 51 White pine-chestnut oak 52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak 53 White oak 55 Northern red oak 57 Yellow-poplar 58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock 59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak 60 Beech-sugar maple 61 River birch-sycamore 62 Silver maple-American elm 63 Cottonwood 64 Sassafras-persimmon 67 Mohrs (shin) oak 68 Mesquite 69 Sand pine 70 Longleaf pine 71 Longleaf pine-scrub oak 72 Southern scrub oak 74 Cabbage palmetto 75 Shortleaf pine 76 Shortleaf pine-oak 80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine 81 Loblolly pine 82 Loblolly pine-hardwood 83 Longleaf pine-slash pine 84 Slash pine 87 Sweetgum-yellow-poplar 88 Willow oak-water oak-diamondleaf oak 89 Live oak 97 Atlantic white-cedar 101 Baldcypress 109 Hawthorn 110 Black oak 111 South Florida slash pine 220 Rocky Mountain juniper 238 Western juniper 239 Pinyon-juniper 237 Interior ponderosa pine 240 Arizona cypress 241 Western live oak 242 Mesquite SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : 107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass 109 Ponderosa pine shrubland 110 Ponderosa pine-grassland 203 Riparian woodland 210 Bitterbrush 211 Creosotebush scrub 409 Tall forb 412 Juniper-pinyon woodland 413 Gambel oak 422 Riparian 502 Grama-galleta 504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland 505 Grama-tobosa shrub 509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association 731 Cross timbers-Oklahoma 732 Cross timbers-Texas (little bluestem-post oak) 733 Juniper-oak 801 Savanna 804 Tall fescue 805 Riparian 810 Longleaf pine-turkey oak hills 811 South Florida flatwoods 812 North Florida flatwoods 813 Cutthroat seeps 814 Cabbage palm flatwoods 815 Upland hardwood hammocks 816 Cabbage palm hammocks 817 Oak hammocks 820 Everglades flatwoods PLANT COMMUNITIES : The eastern cottontail uses the broadest range of habitats of any cottontail (Sylvilagus spp.) [48]. Eastern cottontails typically occupy fields, farms, and woodlands. Historically eastern cottontails were associated with natural glades and woodlands, prairies, swamps, deserts, hardwood forests, temperate rainforests, and boreal forests [10,48]. In New York eastern cottontails occur in pitch pine (Pinus rigida)-white oak (Quercus alba)-scarlet oak (Q. coccinea)-black oak (Q. velutina) woodlands with black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium vacillans) in the understory [49]. Eastern cottontails preferred prairie-eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and blackjack oak (Q. marilandica)-post oak (Q. stellata)-prairie ecotone habitats over other types in the Oklahoma Cross Timbers. Mature hardwood overstory and mixed-brush habitats were avoided [41]. In central Arizona eastern cottontails are present in ponderosa pine (P. ponderoas)-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)-white fir (Abies concolor) communities, with alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) and Gambel oak (Q. gambelii) [13]. In Texas eastern cottontails occur in the Big Bend area in communities dominated by creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), tarbush (Flourensia cernua), mesquites (Prosopis spp.), and ocotillo (Fouqueria splendens) [18]. Eastern cottontails are present in the Great Dismal Swamp, North Carolina, in mixed hardwood forests dominated by red maple (Acer rubrum), black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), oaks (Quercus spp.), slash pine (Pinus elliottii), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua); and in swamps dominated by baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), or Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) [29]. In Alabama eastern cottontails are found in woodlands dominated by shortleaf pine (P. echinata), southern red oak (Quercus falcata), sweetgum, yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and other oaks and hickories (Carya spp.). Understory species include broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), panicums (Panicum spp.), other grasses, sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and seedlings of overstory trees. Eastern cottontails are also found in fields including alfalfa (Medicago sativa), bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), white clover (Trifolium incana), and dallisgrass (Paspalus dilatatum) [57]. Southwestern ponderosa pine forest: Cottontails including eastern cottontail occur in minor populations in southwestern ponderosa pine forests; this scarcity may be due to lack of surface cover [12].

BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS

WILDLIFE SPECIES: Sylvilagus floridanus
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Diurnal Activity: Eastern cottontails are crepuscular to nocturnal feeders; although they usually spend most of the daylight hours resting in shallow depressions under vegetative cover or other shelter; they can be seen at any time of day [17,48]. Eastern cottontails are most active when visibility is limited, such as rainy or foggy nights [27]. Eastern cottontails usually move only short distances, and they may remain sitting very still for up to 15 minutes at a time [48]. Eastern cottontails are active year-round [48]. Breeding Season: The onset of breeding varies between populations and within populations from year to year. The eastern cottontail breeding season begins later with higher latitudes and elevations. Temperature rather than diet has been suggested as a primary factor controlling onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays in the onset of breeding [10]. In New England breeding occurs from March to September [17]. In New York the breeding season occurs from February to September, in Connecticut from mid-March to mid-September. In Alabama the breeding season begins in January. In Georgia the breeding season lasts 9 months and in Texas breeding occurs year-round [10,48]. Populations in western Oregon breed from late January to early September [10]. Mating is promiscuous [27]. Gestation and Development of Young: The nest is a slanting hole dug in soft soil and lined with vegetation and fur. The average measurements are: length 7.09 inches (18.03 cm), width 4.9 inches (12.57 cm), and depth 4.71 inches (11.94 cm) [9]. The average period of gestation is 28 days, ranging from 25 to 35 days [48]. Eastern cottontail young are born with a very fine coat of hair and are blind. Their eyes begin to open by 4 to 7 days. Young begin to move out of the nest for short trips by 12 to 16 days and are completely weaned and independent by 4 to 5 weeks [9,48,63]. Litters disperse at about 7 weeks [17]. Females do not stay in the nest with the young but return to the opening of the nest to nurse, usually twice a day [48,63]. Reproductive Potential: Reproductive maturity occurs at about 2 to 3 months of age. A majority of females first breed the spring following birth [17]; but 10 to 36 percent of females breed as juveniles (i.e., summer of the year they were born) [52]. A typical litter in New England is four or five young, ranging from three to eight [17]. In Maryland the average litter size is 5.01 young, and ranges from 1 to 12. In the South female eastern cottontails have more litters per year (up to 7) but fewer young per litter [10,48]. In New England female eastern cottontails have three or four litters per year [17]. The annual productivity of females may be as high as 35 young [48]. Mammalian life tables were compiled by Millar and Zammuto [45] and include eastern cottontail data. Wainright [63] reviewed the literature on eastern cottontail reproduction. Mortality/Survivorship: In Kansas the largest cause of mortality of radiotracked eastern cottontails was predation (43%), followed by research mortalities (19%), and tularemia (18%) [3]. A major cause of eastern cottontail mortality is collision with automobiles. In Missouri it was estimated that 10 eastern cottontails are killed annually per mile of road. The peak period of highway mortality is in spring (March through May); roadside vegetation greens up before adjacent fields and is highly attractive to eastern cottontails [52]. Annual adult survival is estimated at 20 percent. Average longevity is 15 months in the wild; the longest lived wild individual on record was 5 years old. Captive eastern cottontails have lived to at least 9 years of age [48]. Diseases and Pests: Eastern cottontails are hosts to fleas, ticks, lice, cestodes, nematodes, trematodes, gray flesh fly larvae, botfly larvae, tularemia, shopes fibroma, torticollis, and streptothricosis cutaneous [27]. Further summary of diseases and pests is available [9]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Optimal eastern cottontail habitat includes open grassy areas, clearings, and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs, with shrubs in the area or edges for cover [34]. The essential components of eastern cottontail habitat are an abundance of well-distributed escape cover (dense shrubs) interspersed with more open foraging areas such as grasslands and pastures [1]. Habitat parameters important for eastern cottontails in ponderosa pine, mixed species, and pinyon (Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands include woody debris, herbaceous and shrubby understories, and patchiness [50]. Typically eastern cottontails occupy habitats in and around farms including fields, pastures, open woods, thickets associated with fencerows, wooded thickets, forest edges, and suburban areas with adequate food and cover. They are also found in swamps and marshes and usually avoid dense woods [17,27]. They are seldom found in deep woods [27]. In Maryland eastern cottontails use forest edges and strip vegetation; rose (usually multiflora rose [Rosa multiflora]) hedgerows are most heavily used [46]. In Ohio preferred habitats include patches of briars, vine entanglements, brush piles, and small conifers [7]. In Michigan abandoned farmlands in various stages of succession were assessed for eastern cottontail habitat. Eastern cottontails were present in all stages, but were most abundant from the fourth to the sixth years after the last crop. Most use occurred in grass/perennials and mixed herbaceous perennials. Hayfields were preferred as nesting sites. Eastern cottontail numbers decreased through succession as tolerant trees and canopy cover increased and shrubby ground cover decreased [4]. In fragmented farmland habitats in southern Minnesota eastern cottontail use is associated with dense woody vegetation and artificial cover (brush piles), particularly in shelterbelts, strip vegetation (uncultivated areas between fields), fencerows, and roadsides [58]. In western South Dakota eastern cottontails are associated with black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies due to the presence of higher vegetative diversity around black-tailed prairie dog colonies than in the surrounding prairie [53]. In Colorado cottontails, including eastern cottontail, were present in greater numbers in ungrazed bottomlands than on grazed areas. Within the grazed areas eastern cottontails were present only where shrubs had been moderately (instead of heavily) browsed [14]. In the Southeast eastern cottontails were most abundant in cultivated areas, broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) fields, and pine-hardwoods [44]. Home Range: The eastern cottontail home range is roughly circular in uniform habitats. Eastern cottontails typically inhabit one home range throughout their lifetime, but home range shifts in response to vegetation changes and weather are common [1]. In New England eastern cottontail home ranges average 1.4 acres (0.57 ha) for adult males and 1.2 acres (0.48 ha) for adult females [43] but vary in size from 0.5 acre to 40 acres (0.2-16.2 ha), depending on season, habitat quality, and individual [17]. The largest ranges are occupied by adult males during the breeding season. In southwestern Wisconsin adult male home ranges averaged 6.9 acres (2.8 ha) in spring, increased to 10 acres (4.0 ha) in early summer, and decreased to 3.7 acres (1.5 ha) by late summer [61]. Daily activity is usually restricted to 10 to 20 percent of the overall home range [1]. In southeastern Wisconsin home ranges of males overlapped by up to 50 percent, but female home ranges did not overlap by more than 25 percent and actual defense of range by females occurred only in the immediate area of the nest. Males fight each other to establish dominance hierarchy and mating priority [61]. Population Density: Local concentrations of up to eight eastern cottontails per acre (20/ha) have been recorded, but densities are usually lower [9]. In Kansas peak population density was 2.59 rabbits per acre (6.4/ha) [3]. Density is regulated by mortality and dispersal [9,25]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Eastern cottontails forage in open areas and use brush piles, stone walls with shrubs around them, herbaceous and shrubby plants, and burrows or dens for escape cover, shelter, and resting cover [17]. Woody cover is extremely important for the survival and abundance of eastern cottontails [1]. Eastern cottontails do not dig their own dens (other than nest holes) but use burrows dug by other species [27]. In winter when deciduous plants are bare eastern cottontails forage in less secure cover and travel greater distances [1]. Eastern cottontails probably use woody cover more during the winter, particularly in areas where cover is provided by herbaceous vegetation in summer [9]. In Florida slash pine flatwoods, eastern cottontails use low saw-palmetto (Serenoa repens) patches for cover within grassy areas [38]. Most nest holes are constructed in grasslands (including hayfields) [1]. The nest is concealed in grasses or weeds. Nests are also constructed in thickets, orchards, and scrubby woods [27]. In southeastern Illinois tallgrass prairie, eastern cottontail nests were more common in undisturbed prairie grasses than in high-mowed or hayed plots [64]. In Iowa most nests were within 70 yards (64.2 m) of brush cover in herbaceous vegetation at least 4.0 inches (10.2 cm) tall. Nests in hayfields were in vegetation less than 7.8 inches (20.0 cm ) tall [30]. Average depth of nest holes is 4.7 inches (120 mm), average width 5 inches (126 mm), and average length 7 inches (180 mm). The nest is lined with grass and fur [9,48]. FOOD HABITS : The diet of eastern cottontails is varied and largely dependent on availability. Eastern cottontails eat vegetation almost exclusively; arthropods have occasionally been found in pellets [15]. Some studies list as many as 70 [15], 100 [16], or 145 plant species [39] in local diets. Food items include bark, twigs, leaves, fruit, buds, flowers, grass seeds, sedge fruits, and rush seeds. Numerous studies of local eastern cottontail diet are summarized by Chapman and others [9]. There is a preference for small material: branches, twigs, and stems up to 0.25 inch (0.6 cm) [26]. Leporids including eastern cottontails are coprophagus, producing two types of fecal pellets one of which is consumed. The redigestion of pellets greatly increases the nutritional value of dietary items [9,17,48]. Summer Diet: Eastern cottontails consume tender green herbaceous vegetation when it is available. In many areas Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratense) and Canada bluegrass (P. compressa) are important dietary components [10,39]. Other favored species include clovers (Trifolium spp.) and crabgrasses (Digitaria spp.) [34]. In Connecticut important summer foods include clovers, alfalfa, timothy (Phleum pratense), bluegrasses (Poa spp.), quackgrass (Elytrigia repens), crabgrasses, redtop (Agrostis alba), ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Eastern cottontails also consume many domestic crops [27]. Fall, Winter, and Early Spring Diet: During the dormant season, or when green vegetation is covered with snow, eastern cottontails consume twigs, buds, and bark of woody vegetation [34]. In Connecticut important winter foods include gray birch (Betula populifolia), red maple, and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) [15]. PREDATORS : Major predators of eastern cottontail include domestic dog (Canis familiaris), foxes (Vulpes and Urocyon spp.), coyote (C. latrans), bobcat (Lynx rufus), domestic cat (Felis cattus), weasels (Mustela spp.), raccoon (Procyon lotor), mink (M. vison), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), barred owl (Strix varia), hawks (Falconiformes), corvids (Corvidae), and snakes [26,27]. In the Southwest cottontails including eastern cottontail comprise 7 to 25 percent of the diets of northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) [50]. In Texas eastern cottontails are preyed on by coyotes more heavily in early spring and in fall than in summer or winter [2]. In southwestern North Dakota cottontails (both eastern and desert cottontail [Sylvilagus auduboni]) were major prey items in the diets of bobcats [62]. Predators that take nestlings include raccoon, badger (Taxidea taxus), skunks (Mephitis and Spilogale spp.), and Virginia opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) [52]. In central Missouri eastern cottontails comprised the majority of biomass in the diet of red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) during the nesting season [60]. In Pennsylvania the chief predator of eastern cottontails is the great horned owl [52]. Juvenile eastern cottontails are rare in the diet of short-eared owls (Asio flammeus) [33]. Trace amounts of eastern cottontail remains have been detected in black bear (Ursus americanus) scat [29]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : The eastern cottontail has major economic importance as a game species for both meat and fur production; it is also of economic importance as prey of furbearers (bobcat, coyote, foxes etc.) [25,34]. Since eastern populations remain relatively stable they are an important prey item for the endangered red wolf (Canis rufus) breeding population at Gulf Islands National Seashore [55]. Eastern cottontails are potential prey for the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), particularly in prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) colonies [31]. The eastern cottontail is common in suburban to urban areas and is an economically important pest there as well as in in farmlands and tree plantations [26,48]. Transplantation of eastern cottontail populations has had impacts on other species; in New England the decline of the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) has been attributed at least in part to eastern cottontail introduction [9,48]. Population Status: In Illinois eastern cottontails increased in abundance with agricultural development in the early postsettlement period [42]. However, more recent changes in intensity of agriculture, which have reduced the amount and size of areas of suitable habitat, have contributed to a decline in eastern cottontail populations [1,25]. Reduced eastern cottontail numbers are associated with the decrease in the number and size of individual farms and the amount of land devoted to hay and oats because of increased emphasis on more valuable grains [19]. Other changes include reductions in grasslands, reductions in stream and river bottom forests and woodlots, and plowing of weedy and brushy pastures [1,25]. In Illnois population indices for the period 1956 to 1978 indicate declines of at least 70 percent statewide, and 90 to 95 percent in intensively farmed areas [19]. In Ohio eastern cottontail abundance declined by 70 percent from 1956 to 1983 in spite of efforts to maintain populations [7]. In Kentucky conversion of pastures to tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) has reduced eastern cottontail reproductive rates because of the presence of an unpalatable endophytic fungus (Acremonium ceonophialum) associated with the tall fescue [25]. Boyd [7] reviewed causes of eastern cottontail population declines. Pest Control: Lethal control methods (trapping, shooting) are expensive and effective only in the short term. Nonlethal control methods are also expensive but often effective. Exclosures and repellants are the most effective methods to reduce damage by rabbits. Silvicultural practices that reduce cover in and around plantations, particularly on roadsides, are the most effective way to reduce rabbit damage [26]. Habitat Management: In most areas eastern cottontail habitat can be improved by the interspersion of old fields with briar thickets and creation of edge by breaking up large areas of monocultures. Artificial cover in the form of brush piles 13 to 20 feet (4-6 m) in diameter and 3 to 7 feet (1-2 m) high is effective for up to 5 years. Shrub plantings should include thorny species that maintain a low, dense cover resembling multiflora rose (multiflora rose is not recommended because of its propensity to spread into other areas [10]). Prescribed fire can be used to improve cover (see FIRE ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT) [1,9]. Any activity that reduces cover, such as burning followed by grazing, decreases habitat quality [1,10]. In southwestern ponderosa pine forests cottontail numbers can be increased by management that encourages dense natural or artificial regeneration, by the retention of piled slash, or by encouragement of herbaceous and shrub growth after timber harvest [12,13]. In central Louisiana eastern cottontails were present in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)-slash pine woodlands in slightly greater numbers in regeneration stands than in sapling, sawtimber, or pole-size stands [47]. In northern Georgia, forage biomass was greater on all site-preparation treatments after timber harvest than on unlogged control sites; harvested sites are potentially better habitat for eastern cottontails, but eastern cottontails were not plentiful enough on the site to distinguish between treatments [22]. Increased cottontail numbers have been noted where clearcuts have increased cover in the form of slash piles, increased production of herbaceous plants, and Gambel oak sprouts. Numbers also increased in areas with dense ponderosa pine reproduction around 4 to 5 feet tall (1.2-1.5 m) [12]. Only agricultural land that was within 300 feet (91.4 m) of a woodlot was used by eastern cottontails in southwestern Wisconsin [61]. Food availability is typically not the most important consideration in eastern cottontail management since it is not usually considered a limiting factor. Eastern cottontails select suitable cover over abundant food supply if cover and abundant food are not found together [1]. Korschgen [39] asserted that placement of preferred food plants near permanent cover improves eastern cottontail habitat and productivity.

FIRE EFFECTS AND USE

WILDLIFE SPECIES: Sylvilagus floridanus
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Taylor [59] reviewed twelve studies of fire effects on small mammals and found little evidence of direct mortality. Small mammals are often able to escape fire by retreating to underground burrows [59]. Komarek [37] reported that there was no evidence of direct mortality or even singed fur of either juvenile or adult eastern cottontails in 225 prescribed fires (from late fall to early spring) in southern pine forests. Small mammals including eastern cottontails have been collected from unburned areas of cover within burned plots [37,56]. In Alabama no radio-collared eastern cottontails were killed by either severe or low-severity prescribed fire, and no eastern cottontail deaths were recorded in the immediate postfire period (12 days) in pine-hardwood woodlands and adjacent pastures [36]. In southeastern Illinois tallgrass prairie, eastern cottontails were observed escaping winter prescribed fire [64]. In Oklahoma a hot fire in prairie woodlands (August) killed a number of box turtles (Terrapene spp.) but living eastern cottontails were observed during and after the fire [6]. The rate of fire spread is a major factor in direct mortality of small mammals. After a fire that spread 0.6 to 0.8 m/sec with flame heights up to 20 feet (6 m) and flame widths up to 36.3 feet (11 m), carcasses of marsh rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris) and one cotton rat (Sigmodon spp.) were found. However, no dead mammals were found after a fire that spread at a rate of 0.1 m/sec [59]. Komarek [37] found dead marsh rabbits but living eastern cottontails after a fire; the implication was that eastern cottontails were better able to escape the fire than their congeners. Kelsall and others [35] asserted that forest fires were less destructive to small mammals than grass fires because forest fires usually move slower than grass fires. In eastern Nebraska a search conducted immediately after an April prescribed fire in tallgrass prairie turned up a litter of nestling eastern cottontails that had been injured by the fire but were able to run off. During the fire one adult eastern cottontail was observed behind the fireline, appearing to be disoriented and possibly singed. The researchers were unable to capture the animal for closer examination. No injured or killed eastern cottontails were found after two previous similar fires [20]. Komarek [37] did not list eastern cottontails as attracted to fire and smoke, but they were listed as present on both black burns and on burned areas that had greened up. Most of the effect of fire on vertebrates is the abrupt habitat change following the fire [20]. Concentration of eastern cottontails into unburned patches increases vulnerability to predators; predators hunted extensively in unburned cover areas in Georgia slash pine-longleaf pine woods after spring prescribed fires [56]. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fire's effects on habitat depend on fire characteristics. Soils lose fewer nutrients in low-severity fire than in severe fire. Severe fire volatilizes nutrients and occasionally decreases wettability of the soil surface. Low-severity fire increases herb diversity and stimulates growth, particularly among native legumes. Improved nutritional levels in forage species have been reported after fire. Soil fertilization may increase eastern cottontail ovulation rates [32]. In southeastern Illinois tallgrass prairie eastern cottontails preferred 3-year postfire communities that had not been mowed over unburned plots and 3-year postfire plots that had been mowed [64]. In south-central Iowa prescribed fires resulted in declines in eastern cottontail habitat quality during the first few postfire months, but habitat quality improved thereafter until it met or exceeded prefire levels [24]. In Oklahoma Cross Timbers habitats, pastures (some in post oak-blackjack oak stands) were treated with herbicides (two types) in 1983 to control shrubs, then burned in 1985 to maintain shrub control. There was a gradual decline in eastern cottontail populations on all treatments which was attributed to population cyclicity. However, eastern cottontail density was higher on herbicide-only treated pastures and on herbicide-burned pastures than on plots that were not treated with herbicide and not burned. The herbicide treatments reduced shrub height but increased stem density. Fire encouraged the growth of herbaceous plants. The authors concluded that herbicide with or without fire has no adverse impacts on resident eastern cottontail populations, and that treatment areas had more preferred habitat than control areas [41]. In Alabama shortleaf pine-hardwood woodlands eastern cottontail populations were similar on annually and biennially burned plots. Annually burned plots usually had little fuel and thus experienced low-severity fire that burned less than 50 percent of aboveground vegetation. On biennially burned plots fuels were plentiful and supported severe fire that removed all herbaceous vegetation. Eastern cottontails chose artificial brushpiles more frequently on biennially burned plots than on annually burned plots in immediate postfire periods. Eastern cottontails moved off of severe fire plots during the immediate postfire period [36,57]. In Florida cattle ranges in slash pine-palmetto flatwoods are maintained in open condition by frequent prescribed fire. Eastern cottontails use saw-palmetto patches for cover and saw-palmetto is encouraged by frequent fire [38]. FIRE USE : Prescribed fire is the most useful tool for enhancing eastern cottontail habitat since it can be used to control the amount of brushy cover and available forage [9]. In New York prescribed fire every third year in shrub stands within pitch pine-oak woodlands maintains shrub cover adequate for eastern cottontails [49]. In Pennsylvania manipulation of hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) and alder (Alnus spp.) can be achieved with prescribed fire. Hawthorns are an important food for eastern cottontails in the area, and can be encouraged by periodic application of fire, since hawthorns sprout after top-kill by fire [8]. In the Southeast pine woodlands are managed with frequent fire; eastern cottontail habitat is usually at least adequate in managed pine stands. Additional benefits of fire include reduction of eastern cottontail parasites. Pine plantations are good eastern cottontail habitat for the first five growing seasons after site preparation. They deteriorate with increased canopy closure and do not improve until prescribed fire (usually initiated in the ninth season) and/or thinning (usually initiated in the fifteenth season) are implemented. To benefit eastern cottontails, fire should be used at a frequency sufficient to maintain open conditions and discourage broomsedge, but at long enough intervals to retain some shrub cover and winter browse. There is a need to balance annual fire, which increases summer forage, and longer-interval fires to maintain shrubby areas. Prescribed fire for eastern cottontail management therefore needs to be planned so as to leave patches of areas in different postfire stages, with sufficient annual burn plots to provide summer forage [32].

REFERENCES

WILDLIFE SPECIES: Sylvilagus floridanus
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