Habitat suitability study for the conservation of the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi).
The endangered Mexican volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) was investigated in relation to habitats. Data, obtained from 137 sampling units in 14 patches of the geographical distribution areas of the rabbit, included information on floristic composition, vegetation structure, terrain characteristics and human activities. The abundance of the volcano rabbit was measured in 685 subsampling units by pellet-counts and estimations of pellet-coverage. Thirteen plant communities were identified. Terrain and landscape units were distinguished through aerial photograph interpretation and were verified in the field. By means of classical (parametric and non-parametric) and multivariate (Canonical Correspondence Analysis) statistical analyses, the most suitable, suitable and unsuitable habitat classes were detected. Plant communities and landscape units were adequate levels to distinguish habitat types for the rabbit. Plant communities of Festuca tolucensis and Trisetum altijugum-Festuca tolucensis attained the largest abundance of rabbits, followed by the communities Muhlenbergia quadridentata-Pinus hartwegii, Festuca tolucensis-Pinus hartwegii and Pinus sp.-Alnus firmifolia. The abundances of the volcano rabbit in the remaining plant communities were significantly lower than in the communities mentioned above. It is suggested that the volcano rabbit shows strong preferences for subalpine habitat types. Soil moisture (r = -0.840), altitude (r = -0.756), grazing (r = 0.423) and burning (r = 0.494) correlated significantly with the distribution and abundance of the volcano rabbit. These results are discussed in light of their role in the conservation of the volcano rabbit.