Behavior as a rapid indicator of reintroduction and translocation success for a cryptic mammal, the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis)
Interactions between animals and their environments are reflected in behavior, which is an indicator of perceived risk and habitat quality. Behavioral studies can therefore provide a rapid assessment of conservation actions. We evaluated the behavior of reintroduced and translocated New England cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis)– a species for which the benefits of habitat management, reintroductions, and translocations have been difficult to demonstrate via demographic studies. We first used a random forests model to create a behavioral library for the species using triaxial accelerometers deployed on captive animals that were also monitored with video. We then applied our library to compare time-activity budgets among wild catch-and-release rabbits, wild-caught translocated rabbits, and rabbits introduced into the wild from a captive population. Our library included six behaviors (feeding, grooming, vigilant, movement, resting, and investigating) with an overall classification accuracy of 96.63% and class error rates <14%. For all three groups of rabbits, resting, vigilance, and grooming were the most frequent behaviors; however, captive-bred and translocated rabbits spent significantly more time vigilant and moving than did catch-and-release rabbits. The results raise concern that time spent exploring a new environment may make reintroduced and translocated New England cottontails more vulnerable to predation than local wild rabbits and contribute to low survival rates in reintroduction programs. Our approach shows promise for developing behavioral studies as a rapid indicator of response to conservation efforts for cryptic mammals.
Journal of Mammalology
DOI of Published Version
Eline, Drew V.; Cohen, Jonathan B.; McGeevy,, Thomas J. Jr.; Whipps, Christopher M.; and Cheeseman, Amanda E., "Behavior as a rapid indicator of reintroduction and translocation success for a cryptic mammal, the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis)" (2023). Natural Resource Management Faculty Publications. 325.