Graduate Students

Main Content

Hillard photograph

Liz Hillard

Advisors: Dr. Clayton Nielsen and Dr. John Groninger

Swamp Rabbit Response to Habitat Management in Bottomland Hardwood Forests

Swamp rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus) are bottomland hardwood forest specialists and considered a species of conservation concern due to loss of these forests and other forested wetland habitats. In the last 2 decades reforestation of bottomland hardwood forests has been implemented within the Cache River basin, southern Illinois, to support a wide range of ecosystem services, especially wildlife habitat enhancement. Restoration efforts at the Cypress Creek NWR within the Cache River watershed, a stronghold for swamp rabbits at the northern fringe of their range were successful and provided important habitat. However, once initial survival of planted trees were verified and short-term stocking objectives achieved, active forest management ceased with the assumption that desirable stand conditions would continue to develop. Little effort has been made to link current and future afforested conditions with desired ecosystem management outcomes. Using the swamp rabbit as a representative indicator species of bottomland hardwood ecosystem health, my research will link specific stand structure and composition to suitability of habitat to evaluate the balance of values associated with maturing stands with those of early-successional stands and to establish a framework that provides an intermediate scale to help guide ecosystem-based management objectives within afforested bottomland hardwood forests.