The New England cottontail -- one of the rarest rabbits in the country -- is in danger of losing habitats in Maine and New Hampshire. A group of scientists have identified areas that are critical to the rabbits' long-term survival and are calling on wildlife management to protect these new-found bunny corridors.
To thrive, cottontails need thickets, a scrubby environment that's not quite field or forest, filled with shrubs and small trees. "A lot of other species rely on these thicket habitats, including bobcats, birds, and reptiles," says University of New Hampshire ecologist Adrienne Kovach. "Many thicket-dependent species are on decline, and the New England cottontail is a representative species for this kind of habitat and its conservation."
To figure out where the bunnies travel, Kovach and her colleagues analyzed the genes of 157 rabbits (by extracting DNA from the bunnies' droppings), encompassing four different cottontail populations. Comparing DNA between groups, the ecologists could track gene flow, the movement of genetic information that reflects where bunnies move and breed.