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Rabbit census points to progress

Pattern Irrigator - November 15, 2012

Above: The Riparian Brush Rabbit

It’s hard enough trying to track down an endangered species, but the reclusive nature of the riparian brush rabbit can make things particularly challenging for researchers.

Still, a team from the Endangered Species Recovery Program at California State University, Stanislaus, has been diligent tracking the small cottontail that is native to forested areas along the San Joaquin River and Stanislaus River.

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Biologists found seven rabbits in the spring and nine rabbits during a fall 2011 survey, Edgarian said.

The rabbit population was nearly wiped out by flooding in 2006, shortly after the animals were reintroduced to the wildlife refuge, he said. However, they fared much better when flooding occurred in the refuge in 2011, in large part due to restoration of native plants and the addition of brush-covered mounds of soil that helps serve as a refuge, Edgarian said.

Compared with the larger desert cottontails that also occupy the refuge, brush rabbits are more hesitant to leave brush-covered areas for fear of predators. Edgarian added that they can be swept away by floodwaters or picked off by predators.

Since the 2006 floods, Chico-based nonprofit River Partners has created habitat to help the rabbit and other native species. The group’s contributions include vegetation-rich “bunny mounds” of earth topped with native plants.

Such efforts appear to be succeeding, Edgarian said. Based on the size of one rabbit he found Nov. 8, the biologist determined it was more than 1 year old — and therefore must have survived the 2011 floods.

“This showed that all the work that we’re doing with the mounds and the vegetation has worked,” Edgarian said.

Read the full article here.