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Scientists develop tool to conserve New England cottontail

A cottontail rabbit visits the meditation area to taste its green grass at We Care spa and Resort May 18, 2002 in Desert Hot Springs, CA.. (David McNew/Getty Images)

DURHAM, N.H.  — University of New Hampshire scientists have developed a method to estimate New England cottontail populations, whose numbers have been declining over the past 50 years.

The scientists say the region’s only native rabbit is difficult to monitor due to its rare and secretive nature. With the recently developed method, they will be able to detect trends over time to conserve the rabbits by using DNA collected from fecal pellets. They said they are implementing the tool over 30 managed sites across the species range.

Since 1960, New England cottontail has lost more than 80 percent of its habitat to make way for housing developments and farmland. The species are endangered in New Hampshire, and in 2016, state authorities released captive bunnies into the wild to increase the state’s populations.