Reliable estimates of presence or absence of a species can provide substantial information on management questions related to distribution and habitat use but should incorporate the probability of detection to reduce bias. We surveyed for the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) in habitat patches on 5 Florida Key islands, USA, to estimate occupancy and detection probabilities. We derived detection probabilities using spatial replication of plots and evaluated hypotheses that patch location (coastal or interior) and patch size influence occupancy and detection. Results demonstrate that detection probability, given rabbits were present, was <0.5 and suggest that naïve estimates (i.e., estimates without consideration of imperfect detection) of patch occupancy are negatively biased. We found that patch size and location influenced probability of occupancy but not detection. Our findings will be used by Refuge managers to evaluate population trends of Lower Keys marsh rabbits from historical data and to guide management decisions for species recovery. The sampling and analytical methods we used may be useful for researchers and managers of other endangered lagomorphs and cryptic or fossorial animals occupying diverse habitats.
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Vol. 75 • No. 5