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Spatial patch occupancy patterns of the Lower Keys marsh rabbit

Authors

  • Mitchell J. Eaton,

    Corresponding author
    1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, United States Geological Survey, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. USGS-Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Rd., Laurel, MD 20708, USA.
    • Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, United States Geological Survey, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA.
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  • Phillip T. Hughes,

    1. National Key Deer Refuge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 28950 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, USA
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  • James D. Nichols,

    1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, United States Geological Survey, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA
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  • Anne Morkill,

    1. National Key Deer Refuge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 28950 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, USA
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  • Chad Anderson

    1. National Key Deer Refuge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 28950 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, USA
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  • This article is a US Government work and, as such, is in the public domain in the United States of America.

  • Associate Editor: Leonard Brennan

Abstract

Reliable estimates of presence or absence of a species can provide substantial information on management questions related to distribution and habitat use but should incorporate the probability of detection to reduce bias. We surveyed for the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) in habitat patches on 5 Florida Key islands, USA, to estimate occupancy and detection probabilities. We derived detection probabilities using spatial replication of plots and evaluated hypotheses that patch location (coastal or interior) and patch size influence occupancy and detection. Results demonstrate that detection probability, given rabbits were present, was <0.5 and suggest that naïve estimates (i.e., estimates without consideration of imperfect detection) of patch occupancy are negatively biased. We found that patch size and location influenced probability of occupancy but not detection. Our findings will be used by Refuge managers to evaluate population trends of Lower Keys marsh rabbits from historical data and to guide management decisions for species recovery. The sampling and analytical methods we used may be useful for researchers and managers of other endangered lagomorphs and cryptic or fossorial animals occupying diverse habitats. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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