Swamp rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus) in southern Illinois exist as a metapopulation due to fragmentation of the bottomland hardwood forests in which they live. This fragmentation makes their persistence in Illinois uncertain. We used population viability analysis (PVA) to estimate the probability of persistence of the swamp rabbit metapopulation in Illinois, using a habitat suitability map we created and life history parameters drawn from the literature. We varied the parameters used in our PVA from 50% to 150% of the initial value to compare their effects on extinction risk and to direct future management and research. We tested the effects of potential habitat loss and fragmentation by 1) removing patches individually and in groups from the analysis and by 2) adding 60, 120, and 180 m to the edge of all patches. We also tested the potential effect of dispersal corridors by increasing dispersal between connected patches. Under baseline conditions, the model suggests a 0% chance of quasiextinction (90% metapopulation decline) of swamp rabbits within 25 (or even 50) years. Changes in fecundity values and the effects of catastrophic flooding had the greatest effect on extinction risk, and changes in no other parameter yielded any appreciable impact. Removing the largest patches from the population increased the 25- year risk of extinction to 4%, whereas any other modifications to the habitat did not change the extinction risk. We suggest that managers focus on sustaining habitat quality, particularly upland habitats adjacent to occupied bottomland hardwood forests to improve the likelihood of swamp rabbit persistence in Illinois.
Robinson, Christopher D., Crawford, Joanne C., Corcoran, Lyann, Schauber, Eric M. and Nielsen, Clayton K. "Metapopulation Viability of Swamp Rabbits in Southern Illinois: Potential Impacts of Habitat Change." Journal of Mammalogy 97, No. 1 (Jan 2016): 68-79. doi:10.1093/jmammal/gyv154.