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Sylvilagus transitionalis

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA LAGOMORPHA LEPORIDAE

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus transitionalis
Species Authority: (Bangs, 1895)
Common Name(s):
English New England Cottontail, Wood Rabbit
Taxonomic Notes: Sylvilagus transitionalis may include S. obscurus as a subspecies (Litvaitis et al. 1997).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2ace ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Barry, R., Lazell, J. & Litvaitis, J.
Reviewer(s): Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)
Justification:
This species once had a widespread distribution across New England, USA. Suitable habitat for Sylvilagus transitionalis has declined by an estimated 86% since 1960, and the available habitat has become increasingly fragmented (Litvaitis et al. 2006). It is suspected that a population size reduction of greater than 50% has occurred since 1994. The decline is continuing due to further habitat destruction/modification and fragmentation resulting from urbanization and suburbanization, and competition with the expansion of the range of S. floridanus.
History:
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Sylvilagus transitionalis historically occurred throughout southern Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, eastern New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Whitaker and Hamilton (1998) include a small region of southern Quebec. A study by Litvaitis et al. (2006) estimated that the current area of occupancy in its historic range is 12,180 km², approximately 86% less than the occupied range in 1960. This study showed small patches of populations existing in coastal southeastern Maine, coastal and Merrimack River valley region of southern New Hampshire, southeastern New York, western and some of eastern Connecticut (east of Connecticut River), western Massachusetts, parts of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Countries:
Native:
United States (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont - Possibly Extinct)
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Sylvilagus transitionalis is rare to scarce, even in the fragments where it still occurs, and has dropped from 15-20% of skulls collected by hunters and roadkill specimens to 0-10%. It has been extirpated from Hope Island, Rhode Island and possibly from Bristol County, Massachusetts. Barnstable County, Massachusetts had one of the densest populations in the 1980's, but seems to have declined dramatically as of 2000-2001 (the last census attempt). It is considered rare in Maryland (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). In the southern counties of Maine where it is found, there are perhaps 250 individuals total. Estimated densities in New Hampshire ranged from 0.4-7 individuals/ha. It is still considered relatively abundant in regions of West Virginia (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Sylvilagus transitionalis occupies areas of open woods and shrubs (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998). This species is a habitat specialist. It historically occupied early successional forests that became abundant when farmlands were abandoned, and the maturation of these forests into closed-canopy stands caused decline of this species beginning in the 1960’s (Litvaitis et al. 2006). This species is typically found close to streams, swamps, ponds, or lakes in dense cover with a shrub dominated understory.

The diet of S. transitionalis includes a variety of herbaceous plants, fruits, and seeds, and in the winter it consumes woody species (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998).

S. transitionalis has a typical litter size of 3.5, the average female produces 24 young annually (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). Adults range in size from 38.2 - 42.5 cm (USFWS 2007).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hunting and trapping provide most of our population data. Overall, numbers of Cottontails harvested have not declined but the percent of Sylvilagus transitionalis in the harvest has. The species is hunted for sport, for food, and for ornamental/decorative goods. We recommend prohibition of sport hunting or taking of individuals for any other reason, except critical research purposes, throughout species' range. 10-20% of the total population is utilized.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Sylvilagus transitionalis is threatened by habitat destruction. Urban-suburban sprawl and industrial development expand into and fragment the habitat of this species. These areas are better suited to S. floridanus (Lazell 2001).

S. transitionalis has historically declined due to maturation of second-growth forests and fragmentation of suitable habitat (Litvaitis et al. 2006). The conversion of native shrublands to other land uses, confusion with S. floridanus by sportsmen, and lack of education on existence, biology, and habitat requirements of this species cause problems for the conservation of this species.

Competition and possible hybridization with S. floridanus are likely to be placing pressure on S. transitionalis populations (Litvaitis et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Sylvilagus transitionalis was recommended by Chapman and Stauffer in 1979 to be listed by the IUCN as a species of special concern due to the significant differences between it and S. floridanus, which is now sympatric in much of its range (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). In 2004 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service began consideration of this species to be listed as a threatened or endangered species (Litvaitis et al. 2006). Protection under the Endangered Species Act was declined based on known scattered occurrences across its range as well as presence within protected areas (Department of the Interior - Fish and Wildlife Services 2004). In 2006, a subsequent review found sufficient evidence to designate the species as a candidate and begin a warranted-but-precluded 12 month findings on S. transitionalis (Department of the Interior - Fish and Wildlife Service 2006), for which no decision has been made.

Very little good habitat for S. transitionalis is protected, and tracts of scrub oak barrens should be purchased and protected. Conservation of critical habitat and establishment and management of “Important Mammal Areas” containing known populations, with appropriate publicity and public education programs should be implemented.

S. transitionalis is in need of more research, including surveying and population monitoring, research on nest sites, dispersal, habitat, use of corridors, response to climatic change and stochastic events, effects of sport hunting, competition with other lagomorphs, and response to invasive vegetative species.

Captive breeding and reintroductions may be beneficial once suitable habitat has been established and protected.

Citation: Barry, R., Lazell, J. & Litvaitis, J. 2008. Sylvilagus transitionalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 30 July 2014.
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