The pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is a sagebrush (Artemisia sp.) obligate that depends on sagebrush habitats for food and cover throughout its life cycle. Invasive species, frequent fires, overgrazing, conversion of land to agriculture, energy development, and many other factors have contributed to recent declines in both quantity and quality of sagebrush-steppe habitats required by pygmy rabbits. Because of the many threats to these habitats and the believed decline of pygmy rabbit populations, there is a need to further understand habitat requirements for this species and how they respond to disturbance. This study evaluated habitat selection by pygmy rabbits in Utah and assessed response of this small lagomorph to construction of a large-scale pipeline (i.e. Ruby pipeline) in Utah. We collected habitat data across Utah at occupied sites (pygmy rabbit occupied burrows) and compared these data to similar measurements at unoccupied sites (random locations within sagebrush habitat where pygmy rabbits were not observed). Variables such as horizontal obscurity, elevation, percent understory composed of sagebrush and other shrubs, and sagebrush decadence best described between occupied (active burrow) and unoccupied (randomly selected) sites. Occupied sites had greater amounts of horizontal obscurity, were located at higher elevations, had greater percentage of understory comprised of sagebrush and shrubs, and had less decadent sagebrush. When considering habitat alterations or management these variables should be considered to enhance and protect existing habitat for pygmy rabbits. The Ruby pipeline was a large-scale pipeline project that required the removal of vegetation and the excavation of soil in a continuous linear path for the length of the pipeline. The area that was disturbed is referred to as the right of way (ROW). From our assessment of pygmy rabbit response to construction of the Ruby pipeline, we found evidence for habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of this disturbance. The size of pygmy rabbit space-use areas and home ranges decreased post construction, rabbits shifted core-use areas away from the ROW, and there were fewer movements of collared rabbits across the ROW. Mitigation efforts should consider any action which may reduce restoration time and facilitate movements of rabbits across disturbed areas.
College and Department
Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Edgel, Robert John, "Habitat Selection and Response to Disturbance by Pygmy Rabbits in Utah" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3928.
Brachylagus idahoensis, sagebrush, fragmentation, energy development, pipeline, habitat loss, Random Forests, sagebrush obligate