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Sylvilagus obscurus

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA LAGOMORPHA LEPORIDAE

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus obscurus
Species Authority: Chapman, Cramer, Dippenaar & Robinson, 1992
Common Name(s):
English Appalachian Cottontail, Allegheny Cottontail, Wood Rabbit
Taxonomic Notes: There are no recognized subspecies of Sylvilagus obscurus (Hall 1981). Chapman et al. (1992) separated S. obscurus based on their morphometric analysis and previously determined karyotype distinction. Separation was not supported by mtDNA analysis, which showed limited variation between the two species (Litvaitis et al. 1997).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Barry, R. & Lazell, J.
Reviewer(s): Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)
Justification:
Sylvilagus obscurus is known to be a rare species, and occurs in patchy fragments throughout its range. It is thought to be declining, but because of the lack of data regarding population status of this species it is difficult to assess how severe that decline is. It is suspected that population decline will be greater than or equal to 30% until 2014, based on decline in area of occupancy, extent of occurrence, and quality of habitat. Based on this information, this species nearly meets the criteria for Vulnerable A3c; B2ab(i,ii,v).

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Sylvilagus obscurus occurs in discontinuous upland patches in the eastern United States including central Pennsylvania, western Maryland, western Virginia, eastern West Virginia, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, western North Carolina, north-western South Carolina, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998).

The type locality for S. obscurus is Dolly Sods, West Virginia (Tucker and Grant counties) in Monongahela National Forest, which is an important source population.
Countries:
Native:
United States (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Sylvilagus obscurus populations are highly fragmented and in much of the range it is considered rare, except in portions of eastern Tennessee and the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia (Laseter 1999). Densities of S. obscurus at Dolly Sods, West Virginia, reached a high of 0.7 individuals/ha, and densities in eastern Tennessee reached 0.8 individuals/ha (Laseter 1999). In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Tennessee side, only three records exist and none have been recorded since 1960.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Sylvilagus obscurus is found at high elevations with conifers and ericaceous species; mixed oak forests and early successional (recent clearcut) habitats with dense, ericaceous vegetation (Bunch et al. 1997; Chapman 1999) or blackberry (Bunch et al. 1997). S. obscurus has also been recorded from old growth forest with dense understory (Bunch et al. 1997; Bunch and Dye 1999). Dense understory that provides concealment and thermal cover is important (Laseter 1999).

S. obscurus feeds on ferns, grasses, forbs, shrubs, and, unique among cottontails, conifer needles (Chapman 1999). HB length is 38.6-43.0 cm (Chapman 1999). Early March through early September is the breeding season for this species (Chapman 1999). Gestation is 28 days and an average of 24 young/female are born annually (Chapman 1999).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: 10% of the total population is utilized.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats to Sylvilagus obscurus include:

1. Destruction, fragmentation, and maturation of habitat (Barbour and Litvaitis 1993).
2. Urban and suburban development.
3. Indirect encroachment on habitat by S. floridanus, which thrive better in developed areas and require less cover than S. obscurus (Barbour and Litvaitis 1993).
4. Indiscriminate hunting may result from lack of knowledge by sportsmen or because S. obscurus is phenotypically similar to S. floridanus (Chapman 1999).
5. Lack of education on existence, biology, and habitat requirements of this species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation measures proposed to prevent the decline of Sylvilagus obscurus include:

1. Conservation of critical habitat and establishment and management of “Important Mammal Areas” (as in Pennsylvania) containing known populations, with appropriate publicity and public education programs.
2. Additional surveying and population monitoring.
3. Research on nest sites, dispersal, habitat, use of corridors, response to climactic change and stochastic events, effects of sport hunting, competition with other lagomorphs (i.e. eastern cottontail and snowshoe hare), and response to invasive vegetative species.
4. Development and implementation of state management plans.
5. Public education and awareness programs, particularly to educate the sportsmen public about the habitats that S. obscurus favours, to distinguish from the habitat that the game species S. floridanus prefers, as the two species are easily confused (Chapman 1999).

Citation: Barry, R. & Lazell, J. 2008. Sylvilagus obscurus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 26 November 2014.
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