Aspects of Key Largo woodrat ecology



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Texas A&M University


Development on the island of Key Largo, Florida, has isolated the Key Largo woodrat (KLWR, Neotoma floridana smalli) on approximately 850 ha of remaining habitat. The KLWR was listed as a federally endangered species in 1984, yet there is still only a limited amount of knowledge about its ecology and population dynamics. The objective of this study was to produce reliable information on KLWR ecology to aid in its management and recovery. Specifically, the study examined (1) the trend and status of the KLWR population, (2) KLWR habitat and nesting preferences, (3) the potential of a fatal disease on KLWR, (4) the movements and ranges of the KLWR, and (5) the viability of the KLWR population. I trapped on 60 (1-ha) grids from March to September 2002 and 10 (1-ha) grids in October 2002 and January, April, and July 2003. Additionally I radio-collared 17 KLWRs and tracked them from March to November 2002. I estimated the current population of KLWR to be between 26 and 106 individuals. I found KLWR selected young hammock (disturbed > 1971) over medium (disturbed between 1940-1971) and old hammock (disturbed < 1940). KLWRs selected garbage and rock piles in the young hammock for nesting sites. From the analysis of 64 raccoon (Procyon lotor) fecal samples, I have no evidence that the potentially fatal raccoon roundworm parasite (Baylisascaris procyonis) was present on Key Largo or had negative impact on the KLWR. Telemetry data indicated males have larger ranges than females. Females appear socially tolerant of one another and have significantly smaller ranges than males during the spring and summer breeding season. Results of a population viability analysis (PVA) using demographic parameters from previous studies and my study projected a high risk of extinction for the KLWR within the next 10 years. I recommend the creation of large continuous blocks of young (disturbed > 1971) habitat and the creation of nesting habitat for the KLWR within these areas. I would also advocate a large-scale captive breeding and augmentation of the population along with continued research on the limiting factors that are driving the KLWR toward extinction.