By Bonnie Chasteen
Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.
Unless you live in the Bootheel, you may not have heard of the swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus). This cottontail cousin lives in bottomland hardwood forests, where it can dive into the swamp to escape predators. It is also a Missouri species of conservation concern, ranked imperiled in our state.
Former MDC Natural History Biologist Bruce Henry explained why. “Missouri is at the very northwestern edge of the rabbit’s range, so steep declines in bottomland hardwood forests in our state make it vulnerable to loss.”
Henry and other members of the multi-partner swamp rabbit working group use an unusual survey method to track the rabbits.
“We check their latrines,” he said. Swamp rabbits defecate atop logs and stumps, leaving easy-to-spot evidence of their presence. The working group keeps a database of nearly 300 latrine sites along major floodplains between St. Louis and Oregon counties.
In addition to surveying Missouri’s known latrine sites every 10 years, the group tracks the rabbit’s response to extreme disturbances, such as the Birds Point-New Madrid Levee breach in 2011.
“We surveyed all 65 sites in Mississippi and New Madrid counties from 2011 to 2016,” said Dr. John Scheibe, professor of biology at Southeast Missouri State University. “Our analysis showed that, while the population had recovered pretty quickly, the system was not yet as stable as it had been prior to the flooding event.”
Will the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway population reach preflood numbers? Future surveys will tell.
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber
Art Director - Cliff White
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler