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Towards recovery of an endangered island endemic: Distributional and behavioral responses of Key Largo woodrats associated with exotic predator removal

July 25, 2019

Exotic predators create novel ecological contexts for native species, particularly when prey exhibit predator naïve behaviors. Population recovery of island endemic species following predator eradication has been documented broadly, but studies examining mammalian prey behavioral responses to exotic predator removal are less common. The Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli) is an endangered Florida endemic species that exhibited drastic declines, signified by the loss of natural stick-nests, over the past three decades due to habitat loss and effects from exotic predators. We conducted camera trap surveys of woodrats at supplemental nests and used dynamic multistate occupancy models to evaluate changes in woodrat distribution and stick-nest building behavior over a two-year period of exotic predator (domestic cats [Felis catus] and Burmese pythons [Python bivittatus]) removal. The distribution of woodrats using supplemental nests increased from 27% to 39% in the two-year period, while the proportion of occupied supplemental nests with stick-nests increased from 37% in 2013 to 54% in 2015. The probabilities of supplemental nest use and stick-nest building behavior increased over time following a gradient away from the northern extent of Key Largo, an area associated with high cat activity and the only sites of python captures during the surveys. Woodrats that built stick-nests were more detectable than those that did not, which suggests that stick-nest building could make woodrats more susceptible to predation from novel predators when performing the behavior. We documented increasing woodrat occurrence, along with increasing stick-nest building behavior, which supports recovery and management objectives focused on exotic predator removal.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Towards recovery of an endangered island endemic: Distributional and behavioral responses of Key Largo woodrats associated with exotic predator removal
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.07.032
Authors Michael V. Cove, Theodore Simons, Beth Gardner, Allan F. O'Connell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biological Conservation
Index ID 70204483
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center