Assessing Endangered Marsh Rabbit and Woodrat Habitat use and Predator Population Dynamics

Science Center Objects

 Feral and free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) have strong negative effects on wildlife, particularly in island ecosystems such as the Florida Keys. We deployed camera traps to study free-ranging cats in National Wildlife Refuges and state parks on Big Pine Key and Key Largo and used spatial models to estimate cat population dynamics and stable isotope analyses to examine cat diets. Top models separated cats based on movements and activity patterns and represent feral, semi-feral, and indoor/outdoor house cats. We provide evidence that cat groups within a population move different distances, exhibit different activity patterns, and that individuals consume wildlife at different rates - all of which have implications for managing this invasive predator. 

Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri - LKMR)
Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri - LKMR)(Public domain.)

The Challenge: The Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri - LKMR) and the Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana  smalli - KLWR) are two examples of endangered endemics of the Florida Keys that prove difficult to survey. Remote cameras and other noninvasive techniques have recently become popular in surveys to better detect elusive and rare mammals. Threats to both of these sub-species include habitat change, sea level rise, and introduced predators like feral cats (Felis catus) as well as native  mesopredators that thrive in umandominated  landscapes. Current management objectives for LKMR recovery include assessing their co-occurrence with cats and other mesopredators, as well as modeling patch occupancy and restoration across their range. Management strategies for KLWR recovery have focused on the creation of artificial nest structures and predator removal, as both are suggested to increase their distribution.

Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge(Public domain.)





The Science: Integrate noninvasive sampling and modeling procedures to estimate KLWR and LKMR occurrence and the impacts of native and non-native predator populations and other management strategies on their recovery.





Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli - KLWR)
Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli - KLWR)(Public domain.)




The Future: Additional sampling techniques including hair and scat collection for potential genetic and stable isotope analyses.  Develop new models to account for predators that cannot be uniquely identified and models to account for spatially clustered