Activity patterns and behavior of free-living Nuttall's cottontails Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/m613n270x

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  • Population attributes, behavior, and activity patterns of Nuttall's cottontails (Sylvilagus nuttallii) inhabiting a juniper-sagebrush scabland community in central Oregon were studied between June 1980 and August 1981. Cottontails were trapped, marked for individual recognition, and released at their sites of capture. Data collected by periodic trapping and censusing of cottontails on the study area indicated that population densities, and rates of natality and survival of cottontails were similar to those that occurred during the preceeding 8 years on the same area. Behavioral and environmental data were collected during systematic observation periods conducted on a selected portion of the study area, and during cruises that covered the entire 116-ha study area. Postures, body movements, and behaviors exhibited by Nuttall's cottontails were cataloged and compared with those reported for other leporids. Observed behaviors were classified into the following categories: feed, rest, locomote, groom, tree-climbing activities, interspecific interactions, transitional acts, coprophagy, vocalizations, reproductive social interactions, and nonreproductive social interactions. Of 1,192 behavioral acts recorded during 352 h of systematic observation, 92.9% represented nonsocial behaviors and accounted for 92.6% of the total time cottontails were in view. Behavior of cottontails appeared to be directed towards maintenance of favorable energy balance; when in view during daytime hours, cottontails spent most of their time feeding (58.5%) and resting (23.0%). Nuttall's cottontails were observed to climb in juniper trees, and this behavior was believed to be an adaptation for acquiring water in times of moisture stress. Adult social behavior was observed only during the reproductive season, and accounted for a relatively small portion (7.4%) of the activity budget of cottontails. Indices of cottontail activity were examined in relation to reproductive condition of cottontails collected near the study area and to environmental conditions at the time of observation. Correlation coefficients and principal component analysis suggested the absence of a single dominating environmental influence on cottontail activity patterns. Seasonal variation in activity of adult cottontails, particularly males, was related to reproductive condition; activity increased from the second through fourth breeding periods then declined during the last breeding period within the reproductive season. A dramatic decline in activity of adult males corresponded with regression of testes among cottontails collected nearby and with cessation of breeding. Nuttall's cottontails exhibited a bimodal pattern of daily activity that appeared related to temperature and moisture requirements of rabbits and combinations of environmental constraints that influenced those requirements. An early morning peak of activity corresponded with increasing ambient temperatures and near-maximum plant water content; activity reached a low point during midday, when air temperatures often were above the zone of thermoneutrality for rabbits and water availability was minimal; an evening peak of activity that corresponded to more favorable air temperatures may be related largely to metabolic demands for energy.
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