MM Crowell, KT Shoemaker, MD Matocq 2020, Ideal conditions for increased trapping success of pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) across the Great Basin, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 101, Issue 6, December 2020, Pages 1736–1749

Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems are one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America and many of the species that rely on these habitats are of great conservation concern. Pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) are one of these species. They rely on sagebrush year-round for food and cover, and are understudied across their range in the intermountain west due in part to their recalcitrance to standard capture techniques. Identifying an efficient and minimally biased trapping method therefore is a critical first step in learning more about this species. We assessed how trap orientation and weather characteristics influenced trap success for Tomahawk traps placed in and around pygmy rabbit burrows by carrying out trapping surveys at 16 occupied pygmy rabbit sites across the Great Basin from 2016 to 2018. We found that pygmy rabbits had a greater probability of being captured in traps with the open end facing away from burrow entrances. Pygmy rabbits also were more likely to be captured on clear days (0–5% cloud cover) and during periods of cooler temperatures during summer months (June–August). We found no evidence that sex or age ratios differed, or that individuals differed meaningfully, in their preference for certain trap orientations. To increase trap success for pygmy rabbits, we suggest maximizing trapping effort during summer months, at dawn, and maximizing the proportion of Tomahawk traps facing away from burrow entrances. We anticipate that our monitoring protocol will enable more effective research into the ecology and conservation of this cryptic and potentially imperiled species.

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