The Effects of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Predator Scent on Winter Burrow Use by Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus)
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During the winter months, the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) must simultaneously cope with freezing temperatures that impose physiological stress, while remaining vigilant for a variety of predators. Because of this, rabbits frequently use burrows around man-made structures to escape the cold and predation. To enhance their detection of predators, Eastern cottontails are also sensitive to a variety of olfactory cues. However, despite the importance of Eastern cottontails in red fox (Vulpes vulpes) diets, little is known about scent cues that rabbits use to detect red foxes. As such, I designed an experiment to determine whether winter burrow use by Eastern cottontails is affected by the application of red fox urine near burrows. After identifying active rabbit burrows near abandoned buildings in Ithaca, New York during winter 2017-2018, camera traps were installed to monitor their use before and after setting up scent wicks dipped in red fox urine or a water control near burrow entrances. Although no statistically significant effect was observed between burrow use before and after treatment, a variety of mammalian and avian species were seen in and around burrows over the course of the winter. This indicates that burrows may be important to a range of North American mammals and birds, knowledge which may be helpful in creating future conservation management plans for these species. This project has also provided continued evidence for the usefulness of camera traps in documenting predator-prey behavior and studying wildlife ecology.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
dissertation or thesis
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