Genetic diversity and connectivity of white-tailed jackrabbit populations in Iowa with notes on seasonal home ranges
Julie A. Blanchong
The loss and fragmentation of Iowa’s native prairies has had varied effects on different species as some move more easily through unsuitable habitat than others. Small mammals may be highly affected by isolation as they may not move easily among habitat patches. I studied white–tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) as a representative of Iowa’s grassland–adapted species to determine effects of habitat fragmentation on movement patterns, space use, and genetic diversity. I tracked radio–collared jackrabbits from September 2008–September 2009 to determine habitat use in an intensively agricultural landscape. I collected tissue from live–captured animals and road-killed samples across Iowa and South Dakota. Home ranges expanded and shifted following corn harvest (October 2009) and prior to the breeding season (February–May 2009). Home ranges contracted from the end of the breeding season until right before harvest (September 2009) as crop height increased. The population genetic structure analyses suggested there are two populations in Iowa, a central and northwest population. The northwest Iowa population is not distinct from South Dakota individuals and is moderately differentiated from the less genetically diverse central Iowa population. White–tailed jackrabbit movement patterns are affected by agricultural practices and agricultural fields are a potential barrier to gene flow, and these anthropogenic alterations of the landscape in Iowa may also alter other aspects of jackrabbit ecology and other grassland–adapted species.