Our goal was to assess the conservation status of the understudied and naturally uncommon habitat specialist, the golden mouse (Ochrotomys nuttalli), at the edge of its range where its historically fragmented habitat has been subjected to severe loss.
Peninsular Florida, north of approximately 27° latitude, USA.
We used data gathered from museum collections, regional biologists, geographic information systems (GIS) layers, field surveys and DNA sequencing to determine the habitats that best explain the distribution of the species, examine changes in the geographic extent of both the species and its habitats, and compare genetic differentiation between populations occupying disjunct regions. The results from these multiple analyses were combined to assess the conservation status of the species.
Golden mouse occurrence records align well with the distribution of hardwood habitats in Florida. These habitats occur naturally as ‘islands’, but have become increasingly fragmented by anthropogenic land use. Despite habitat loss, the location of the southern range periphery has remained relatively unchanged in location over the past century. Genetic analysis reveals a history of limited dispersal of females among habitat ‘islands’ that likely predates anthropogenic landscape fragmentation. This pattern suggests that isolated populations that are extirpated will have little to no chance of successful recolonization.
The combined results from multiple analyses produced a more complete picture of the threats faced by this previously data-deficient species than any single analysis would have. Although the species' southern range limit cannot be shown to have retracted in the face of human expansion, habitat fragmentation clearly has put the species at increased risk. Conservation and management of hardwood habitats are critical to the persistence of the golden mouse at the edge of its range.