Date of Award

5-1-2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Agricultural Sciences

First Advisor

Groninger, John

Abstract

Reforestation of bottomland hardwood (BLH) forests has occurred within the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV), USA, to support a wide range of ecosystem services, but especially wildlife habitat enhancement. As ecosystem restoration efforts proceed in BLH ecosystems, managers and policymakers are seeking criteria to evaluate wildlife habitat enhancement goals. Specialist wildlife that evolved within forest ecosystems can be sensitive to the composition, structure, and function of an ecosystem in relation to the system's natural or historical range of variation and thereby serve as indicators of habitat quality. The swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) is a specialist of BLH forests throughout the LMAV and therefore may be an appropriate indicator species for this ecosystem. In Chapter 1, I reviewed peer-reviewed literature to evaluate the utility of swamp rabbits as an indicator species according to three commonly-used criteria: habitat factors defining swamp rabbit relationships to BLH forests, the importance of swamp rabbit habitat to other wildlife, and the efficiency of swamp rabbit monitoring. I concluded that the swamp rabbit is a suitable indicator of wildlife habitat quality in BLH ecosystems in the LMAV because they evolved and remain endemic to the ecosystem, use habitat that integrates desirable characteristics that positively influence wildlife biodiversity, and are easy to monitor routinely.

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