Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's legacy will live on with a new University of Central Florida study aimed at saving the endangered bunnies named after him.
Rosanna Tursi, a master's student and graduate teaching assistant, is using population genetics to aid in the conservation of the Lower Keys marsh rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri), which were declared endangered in 1990. It is estimated that less than 300 rabbits remain today.
Hefneri, the most recently recognized subspecies of the marsh rabbit, is small with short, dark brown fur and a grayish-white belly. Discovered in 1984, the subspecies was named in honor of Hefner after his organization donated money to support fieldwork on the rabbits.
Hefneri live in an island environment and are dependent on specific grasses and plants for feeding, nesting and shelter. Population growth and development in the Lower Keys has led to the death of the bunnies at the hands of vehicles or domestic animals. Their natural habitat also is being destroyed.
According to Tursi, the ability of a species to adapt to new conditions depends on the variety of genetic information present in natural populations. The more genetic diversity a species has, the greater its rate of survival is.
"The loss of genetic diversity can have long-term repercussions by affecting the evolutionary potential of the species," Tursi said.
UCF Assistant Professor Eric Hoffman and Philip Hughes, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Big Pine Key, landed a grant to study the bunnies. Tursi joined the team and is conducting fieldwork this summer in the Everglades and Florida Keys. The USFWS is interested in Tursi's finding because it wants to prevent the bunnies' from becoming extinct.
The USFWS hopes to identify rabbits from the most genetically diverse populations, relocate them and create a new population in a
|Contact: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala|
University of Central Florida