University of Idaho to study rabbit habitat

Researchers will use a tiny unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras.


Joining the University of Idaho in the study are researchers from Washington State University, Boise State University and the University of Florida. They will study potential pygmy rabbit habitats in eastern and central Idaho June 24-30.

Janet Rachlow, associate professor in the U of I Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences, said the electric aircraft - small enough to be launched by hand - will be controlled from the ground and fly over expanses of sagebrush in Lemhi and Blaine counties.

She said the aircraft will take high-resolution digital images of the area to help researchers "better understand the relationship between sagebrush and pygmy rabbits."

The animals thrive in those landscapes and the data could help researchers assess the best areas in which to reintroduce captive-bred rabbits. Rachlow said the National Science Foundation awarded each university around $330,000 to take part in the study.

She said the fly-overs will be conducted during the day using two types of cameras. One will provide color images that show the level of concealment provided by the sagebrush. The more concealment, the better, said Rachlow.

"Everything under the sun eats them," she said.

A second "near-infrared" camera will be used to study plant chemistry in the area, she said. This could help researchers determine if the sagebrush provides enough nutrients for the rabbits to survive.

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