Conservation Research Laboratory: General Conservation Projects

Kira Hefty

Occurrence and habitat use by Big Cypress fox squirrels on public lands
  • Time Period:August 2016 - May 2021

  • Location:Southwest Florida, U.S.A.


Project Description & Bio:

In Florida, native wildlife species face multiple threats including human development, habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, invasive species, and changes in the hydrologic regime. One of the greatest challenges to conserving species in this unique environment is a general lack of knowledge of species-specific habitat requirements and movement behavior. Big Cypress fox squirrels (Sciurus niger avicennia) are an endemic subspecies of fox squirrel in southwest Florida. Because so little is currently known about its extent of occurrence and landscape-level habitat requirements, S. n. avicennia has been declined listing as a federally protected species. Most studies involving this charismatic subspecies have been conducted in urban environments rather than in their natural habitat. In 2012, Big Cypress fox squirrels were named as a Species of Greatest Conservation Concern in Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative Wildlife Action Plan. Kira will be working on public lands with multiple federal and state agencies to decrease knowledge gaps concerning this unique subspecies and provide science-based conservation and management recommendations. Kira is also interested in connecting with community members and establishing long-term outreach programs that will facilitate local interest in conserving Florida’s delicate and special ecosystems.

Research Questions:

1) What is the extent of occurrence of S. n. avicennia? 2) Which habitat features are associated with S. n. avicennia presence? 3) How has habitat degradation and fragmentation affected S. n. avicennia dispersal and movement patterns?

Big Cypress fox squirrel

Big cypress fox squirrel - photo courtesy of John Kellam