reproduction and behavior in captive idaho and columbia basin pygmy rabbits
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Reproduction and Behavior in Captive Idaho and Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits. Becky Elias, Rod Sayler, Lisa Shipley Washington State University. Washington State University Oregon Zoo Northwest Trek Animal Park Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Distribution of Pygmy Rabbits .

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reproduction and behavior in captive idaho and columbia basin pygmy rabbits

Reproduction and Behavior in Captive Idaho and Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits

Becky Elias, Rod Sayler,

Lisa Shipley

Washington State University

slide2
Washington State University
  • Oregon Zoo
  • Northwest Trek Animal Park
  • Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
background
Background
  • Smallest rabbit in North America
  • Sagebrush foragers
  • Dig their own burrow
  • Columbia Basin (CB) pygmy rabbits listed as endangered
background5
Background
  • Decline of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit linked to:
    • Loss and fragmentation of deep soil sagebrush-steppe habitat
    • Predation
    • Disease
    • Cattle grazing
    • Inbreeding depression
timeline
Timeline
  • 1995 – Recovery plan adopted for Columbia Basin (CB) pygmy rabbits
  • 2001 – Population crash results in an emergency action plan and an emergency listing as endangered. Oregon Zoo (OZ) develops captive breeding protocol using Idaho (ID) pygmy rabbits, and remaining CB rabbits are brought into captivity
  • 2002 – Captive breeding of CB pygmy rabbits begins at OZ, Washington State University (WSU), and Northwest Trek (NWT)
  • 2003 – CB pygmy rabbits achieve federal listing as endangered. Beginning of intercross pairings between CB and ID pygmy rabbits
outline
Outline
  • Breeding behavior
  • Reproductive success
  • Nest building
  • Gestation, birth, and lactation
  • Weights & Diet
  • Mortality & survival
  • Management implications
breeding
Breeding
  • Wilde (1978) and Fisher (1979)
  • Breed mid-February to mid-May
  • Induced ovulators
  • Gestation period of 39 days
  • Up to three litters a year
  • Average litter size of 6 kits
  • No evidence on kits in burrows; hide at base of sagebrush plants
slide9
Diet
  • 2001 – 2002: Lab Diet (high fiber) /Bunny Basics (timothy hay mix)
  • 2004 (at WSU only): Purina breeder’s diet (high protein)
data collection
Data Collection
  • Breeding & Maternal Behaviors
    • Digital video recorder
    • Bullet cameras and day/night cameras
    • Pens open for ~ three days
    • Recorded chasing, copulation, nest-building, birth, and lactation
  • Reproductive Success
    • Female counted as pregnant when she built a natal nest
    • All kits found, no matter what age, used for reproductive success
breeding behavior
Breeding Behavior
  • Male or female initiated chases
  • Lasted seconds to several minutes
  • Copulation while chasing or female stopped and allowed male to mount
  • Brief copulation
reproductive success of females
Reproductive Success of Females
  • ID significantly higher than CB on all categories
reproductive success of males
Reproductive Success of Males
  • ID significantly higher than CB on all except siring litters (small sample size?)
reproductive success
Reproductive Success
  • ID and Cross significantly higher than CB
why is cb reproduction low
Why is CB reproduction low?
  • Problem with males, females, or both?
  • Males: problem with copulation?
  • Females: physiological - ovulation, behavior – aggression before successful copulation?
  • Hybrid studies
possible answers
Possible Answers
  • Captivity
    • Problems breeding in captivity
  • Behavior
    • Sending/receiving proper behavioral cues
  • Weights
    • Underweight animals do not produce effectively
    • CB males have produced better since the introduction of the higher protein diet
  • Potential Inbreeding Depression
    • Decreased mating activity
    • Longer time before first litter
    • Increased litter failure
    • Low sperm count/failed ovulation
nest building
Nest Building
  • 13 days post-conception
  • Dig separate burrow; 16.5 – 35.5 cm
  • Use hay to make nest
  • Pluck fur from abdomen and line nest shortly before birth
gestation
Gestation
  • Gestation period
    • CB: 22.6 days (n=2)ID: 24.0 days (n=9) p=0.03
    • Cause of difference
      • CB litters born premature
      • Genetic drift & non-adaptive variation; adaptive variation; inbreeding depression
birth
Birth
  • 2 morning, 4 afternoon, 3 night
  • Female plucked fur from her abdomen, cleaning, and opening burrow
  • At burrow entrance
  • 14.8 minutes
  • Covers burrow entrance
slide25
Kits
  • Eyes closed
  • Little fur
  • Gray to black skin
  • Pink bellies
  • ~15 grams
lactation
Lactation
  • Open once or twice a day to nurse
  • Kits come to the surface to nurse, with female sitting at the burrow entrance
  • 10.6 minutes
  • Recovers burrow
  • Night (6pm-11pm)
  • Morning (5am-9am)
lactation27
Lactation
  • No apparent correlation between number of nursings per day and litter size, time of year, or health of litter
slide28

Emerge 15 days after birth

  • Female doesn’t cover burrow
  • Sporadic nursing for several weeks
  • CB: 3.7 kits Cross: 4.1 kits ID: 3.5 kits
  • 2 – 6 kits/ litter
  • Max litters/year:
    • 3 in small pens, 4 in our large pen
breeding season
CB: March 5th and May 8th

ID: *March 1st and May 25th

Cross: February 21st and May 23rd

Breeding Season

Earliest & Latest successful copulation

adult weights
Adult Weights
  • CB males and females same weight as ID before breeding season
  • CB males (-32g) and females (-24g) lost weight.ID males (+11g) and females (+27g) gained weight
  • New data: both males and females fed the higher protein diet, gained weight (19g for males, and 17g for females)
large pen weights
Large pen weights
  • At 26 weeks (near adult weight), animals in the large pen weigh much more than animals in the small pens
  • Males
    • Large pen: 523g
    • Small pen: 424g
  • Females
    • Large pen: 590g
    • Small pen: 431g
captive population growth first 3 years
Captive Population Growth: first 3 years
  • Growth rate of the CB population was 1.2 during the first 3 years of the study
  • Projectedpopulation: 60 CB rabbits in 5 years of captive breeding
  • 10.4% chance of population increasing to 100 and 0.1% chance of crashing to 5
adult survival
Adult Survival
  • 2001: 88%
  • 2002: 56%
  • 2003: 63%
  • 2004: 43%
  • All years: 63%
kit survival
Kit Survival
  • 2001: 80%
  • 2002: 47%
  • 2003: 59%
  • 2004: 23%
  • All years: 52%
conclusions
Conclusions
  • Inbreeding
  • Low reproductive performance
  • Health problems
  • Diet
  • Animals weigh more on a high protein diet
  • Possibly better reproduction
  • Population growth
  • Mediocre at best – long-term viability questionable
  • Success in any given year is unpredictable
management implications
Management Implications
  • NO Columbia Basin rabbits have been found in the wild since 2001 – may be extinct
    • Must control disease
    • Explore reproductive limitations and potential
    • Increase genetic diversity
    • Intercross rabbits to maintain unique CB alleles
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