Rabbits -- Feeding and feeds -- Florida -- Florida Keys, Rabbits -- Florida -- Florida Keys, Stable isotopes, Sylvilagus -- Florida -- Florida Keys
Understanding the effect of food abundance on feeding behavior can benefit conservation efforts in many ways, such as to determine whether impacted environments need food supplementation, whether different locations of threatened species contain different food abundances, or whether reintroduction sites are missing key components of a species’ diet. I studied the relationship between feeding behavior and food abundance in the Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri), an endangered subspecies endemic to the lower Florida Keys. Specifically, my study set out to measure the relative abundance of the primary plants within the natural habitat of the Lower Keys marsh rabbit and estimate the proportion of each of these plants within the rabbit’s diet. With this information, I tested the following hypotheses: first, the Lower Keys marsh rabbit selectively feeds on specific plants; second, that diet does not differ among sites; and third, that diet is not affected by food abundance. Using stable isotope analysis, I determined that two plants were prominent in the rabbit’s diet: a shrub, Borrichia frutescens, and a grass, Spartina spartinae. These two species were prominent in the rabbit’s diet in most patches, even where they were relatively rare, suggesting the rabbits are indeed selectively feeding on these species. In addition, although diet did differ among patches, selective feeding was apparent in all cases. Overall, this study determined that certain food types are important food sources for the federally endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit and that these rabbits do not feed on plants based on plant abundance. This knowledge can be directly applied to reintroduction and restoration efforts for the Lower Keys marsh rabbit. More generally, the methods used in this study can be applied to other species of concern in order to address questions associated with diet requirements and foraging behavior.
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Master of Science (M.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic
Gordon, Matthew James, "Estimating Diet And Food Selectivity Of The Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit Using Stable Isotope Analysis" (2010). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1613.