Tahoe has three species of regularly occurring rabbits and hares. They occupy a central ecological role between vegetation structure and medium to large predators, yet almost no attention has been paid to their status and distribution at Tahoe. During the last half-decade, Nuttall's Cottontails (Sylvilagus nuttallii) have expanded their range across the north Tahoe basin and spread all the way up into Squaw Valley. Is this why Gray Foxes have been moving into the Tahoe basin at the same time? Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) are a regular component of Tahoe's west shore fauna, but what about the Carson Range? And what's the story with White-tailed Jackrabbits (L. townsendii)? Are they really extirpated from the region (as they are officially considered by USFS, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Nevada Department of Wildlife)? TINS is interested in all of these questions.
We started with White-tailed Jackrabbits, a species that has not been formally documented in the region in many decades. Of further interest is the species' habitat preference of high ridges and mountaintops. Under current climate-change models, this species could be pushed off the tops of the mountains in the near future, so it is important that we establish an accurate distributional baseline now. In the winter of 2010-2011, TINS set out to document the current distribution and status of White-tailed Jackrabbits in the Tahoe region. We picked a difficult winter for this research, but we're learning a lot about these wonderful rabbits (which do still live at Tahoe). This project has been funded in part by the Nevada Division of State Lands, Lake Tahoe License Plate Grant Program. Research is ongoing, and photos from the project can be found HERE.
In partnership with Dr. Ben Sack's lab, part of the the Veterinary Genetics Lab at UC Davis, we have expanded this work to include Snowshoe Hare.