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Iowa State helps Department of Natural Resources research jackrabbits


Iowa State University students are researching the white-tailed jackrabbit, a species of hare that is declining in Iowa.

The research on the white-tailed jackrabbit began three years ago when Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, contacted Iowa State for help with the species. The Iowa population of jackrabbits has been declining for more than 40 years and the DNR wanted more information to guide the conservation and management of the species.

White-tailed jackrabbits are technically hares, not rabbits. They are nocturnal animals that tend to live in grassland areas of the northern United States and Canada.

Jackrabbits are found primarily in northern and central Iowa, although occasional sightings come from other parts of the state, said Sue Fairbanks, associate professor in the natural resource ecology and management department. This project is studying jackrabbits that live in and around the Agronomy and Agricultural Engineering Research Farm west of Ames.

Research includes genetic testing of the different populations of white-tailed jackrabbits in Iowa and tracking their activity.

Irma Tapia, a graduate student in the natural resource ecology and management department, is researching the genetic diversity of the jackrabbit populations in Iowa. Her goal is to determine if remaining populations of jackrabbits in Iowa are isolated or if animals sometimes move between them. Tiny samples of tissue from live and road-killed specimens provide the genetic material for testing.

Another student, Eric Kilburg, a junior in animal ecology, is doing his honors project on the diurnal or daytime resting habitat selection of the jackrabbit. With help from Fairbanks, the adviser on the two projects, the jackrabbits are trapped and given radio collars to track their travel patterns and habits.

"The research is ongoing, with continued study and monitoring of the species in order to help inform conservation and management of the jackrabbits," Fairbanks said.

The undergraduate research project will continue through the end of this year. The graduate project is expected to end in spring 2010, but the DNR and Fairbanks are discussing additional research extending beyond 2010.

She said that the public is welcome to provide any information on jackrabbit populations by contacting her at 515-294-7315 or suef@iastate.edu.

The Iowa DNR, which commissioned the help of Iowa State, is paying for the radio collars worn by the jackrabbits, along with other logistical support. The Iowa Science Foundation, a state-supported grant program administered by the Iowa Academy of Science, and Iowa State also are funding the project.

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