Great Basin Naturalist


An investigation to determine the location and extent of populations of pygmy rabbits (Sylvilagus idahoensis) in Oregon, and to describe several biotic and physical components within communities that include pygmy rabbits, was conducted from October 1981 to September 1983. Of 211 sites suspected of supporting the species based on interpretation of museum records, aerial photographs, soil maps, and interviews with biologists and area residents, 51 exhibited evidence of being inhabited when examined in summer 1982. Soil and vegetation components were sampled at 15 sites occupied by pygmy rabbits and 21 sites adjacent thereto. At inhabited sites, mean soil depth (51.0 ± 2.3 cm), mean soil strength of surface (0.8 ± 0.2 kg/cm2) and subsurface (3.8 ± 0.3 kg/cm2) horizons, shrub height (84.4 ± 5.8 cm), and shrub cover (28.8 ± 1.4%) were significantly greater (P < 0.05) than at unoccupied adjacent sites, but percent basal area of perennial grasses (3.7 ± 0.9%), density of annual grasses (5.2 ± 2.1/1,000 cm2), density of forbs (3.4 ± 0.6/1,000 cm2), and cryptogam cover (2.4 ± 0.5%) were not. Except for the clay component of subsurface soils, texture of surface and subsurface soils were not significantly different between sites occupied by pygmy rabbits and adjacent sites. The affinity of pygmy rabbits for areas with greater shrub cover, shrub height, soil strength, and soil depth, and, to a small degree, coarser soil texture possibly was related to availability of forage, security from predation, and ease of burrow construction. Analysis of 472 samples of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) collected at and near sites inhabited by pygmy rabbits indicated their distribution was not dependent upon the presence of specific subspecies of sagebrush. A marked decrese in evidence of occupancy of sample sites and of pygmy rabbit activity at occupied sites in 1983 indicated that populations of pygmy rabbits were susceptible to rapid declines and possible local extirpation. Fragmentation of sagebrush communities poses a potential threat to populations of pygmy rabbits, but the severity of the threat presently is unknown.