Antelope Jackrabbit (Lepus alleni) Habitat Characteristics in a Former Rangeland
Semi-desert grasslands in the southwestern United States have undergone significant ecological changes as a result of anthropogenic activities beginning in the 1800s. As efforts to restore semi-desert grasslands continue, importance should be placed on understanding the habitat requirements of species, and their relationships with other plants and animals. We examined habitat characteristics of antelope jackrabbits (Lepus alleni Mearns 1890) at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Arizona. We examined antelope jackrabbit habitat in relation to endangered Pima pineapple cacti (Coryphantha scheeri Kuntz var. robustispina Schott) and available freshwater sources. Dominant vegetation type and cover were measured at 247 points in antelope jackrabbit home ranges between October 2015 and December 2015. Additionally, we documented the proximity of antelope jackrabbit locations to Pima pineapple cacti and available water sources to determine whether antelope jackrabbits have a spatial relationship with this endangered cactus or water availability.Antelope jackrabbits did not select for habitat based on the vegetation characteristics we measured, proximity to Pima pineapple cacti or based on water availability (P > 0.05).Some jackrabbit species have indicated habitat structure preferences, and while antelope jackrabbits are most commonly associated with tropic-subtropic savannas, our study did not show that antelope jackrabbits select for specific vegetation types or a specific vegetation density, nor native grasses over non-native grasses. Antelope jackrabbits may encounter and eat Pima pineapple cactus opportunistically, as opposed to selecting habitat where Pima pineapple cactus occur. Additionally, antelope jackrabbits did not choose habitat based on the location of freshwater sources which may be because they do not need to drink water to survive and instead get their water needs from their food. Little information exists on how antelope jackrabbits select habitat. This study concluded that there is no relation between vegetation factors previously thought to influence antelope jackrabbit habitat selection and habitat use. Future studies based on larger-scale variables, like topography or predator pressure, may help in understanding the factors that influence how this species uses man-altered landscapes.