Influence of patch, habitat, and landscape characteristics on patterns of Lower Keys marsh rabbit occurrence following Hurricane Wilma Academic Article uri icon


  • Degradation of coastal systems has led to increased impacts from hurricanes and storm surges and is of concern for coastal endemics species. Understanding the influence of disturbance on coastal populations like the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) is important to understanding long-term dynamics and for recovery planning. We evaluated the effect of disturbance on the rabbits by determining which patch, habitat, and landscape characteristics influenced habitat use following Hurricane Wilma. We determined patch-level occurrence 6-9 months prior to Hurricane Wilma, within 6 months following the hurricane, and 2 years after the storm to quantify rates of patch abandonment and recurrence. We observed high patch abandonment (37.5% of used patches) 6 months after Hurricane Wilma and low rates of recurrence (38.1% of abandoned patches) 2 years after the storm, an indication that this storm further threatened marsh rabbit viability. We found the proportion of salt-tolerant (e. g., mangroves and scrub mangroves) and salt-intolerant (e. g., freshwater wetlands) vegetation within LKMR patches were negatively and positively correlated with probability of patch abandonment, respectively. We found patch size and the number of used patches surrounding abandoned patches were positively correlated with probability of recurrence. We suggest habitat use following this hurricane was driven by the differential response of non-primary habitats to saline overwash and habitat loss from past development that reduced the size and number of local populations. Our findings demonstrate habitat use studies should be conducted following disturbance and should incorporate on-going effects of development and climate change. 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

published proceedings

  • Landscape Ecology

author list (cited authors)

  • Schmidt, P. M., McCleery, R. A., Lopez, R. R., Silvy, N. J., Schmidt, J. A., & Perry, N. D.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Schmidt, Paige M||McCleery, Robert A||Lopez, Roel R||Silvy, Nova J||Schmidt, Jason A||Perry, Neil D

publication date

  • December 2011