Pygmy rabbit in winter. Photo courtesy of J. Witham.
Title: Connections across a fragmented landscape: dispersal and gene flow among pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) populations
Student: Wendy Estes-Zumpf
Department: Fish & Wildlife Resources
Pygmy rabbits are habitat specialist living in the sagebrush steppe of the Great Basin. A disjunct population in Washington is federally listed as a distinct population segment, and a petition for range-wide federal listing has raised concern about the status of this species. Many questions remain regarding the dynamics of their populations. For example, it is not known if populations cycle or fluctuate like other lagomorphs, however, rapid declines and local extirpations have been documented. We have noted heavy ectoparasite infestations in some populations, but the effect of parasite prevalence, the potential for pathogen transmission, and potential impacts on dynamics of pygmy rabbit populations have not been explored. Research conducted by an undergraduate at UI provided the first information on this topic. The student used PCR assays to survey pygmy rabbit ectoparasites for pathogens and documented the first evidence of both plague (Yersinia pestis) and tularemia (Francisella tularensis ) in this species. Results of that research are currently in preparation for publication. We propose to expand on that initial survey. The goal of this work is to quantify parasite prevalence and diversity across populations and to survey for pathogens.
For more information, email the PI: Dr. Janet Rachlow