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Open Access item Rabbits as a keystone species in southern Europe

Authors:Delibes Mateos, Miguel
Redpath, Steve M.
Angulo, Elena
Ferreras, Pablo
Villafuerte, Rafael
Keywords:Aquila adalberti, Hunting, Oryctolagus cuniculus, Raptor conservation, Spain, Spanish imperial eagle
Issue Date:Jun-2007
Publisher:Elsevier
Citation:Biological conservation 137 ( 200 7) 14 9 – 156
Abstract:A keystone species is one that is crucial in maintaining the organization and diversity of their ecological communities. We tested the idea that rabbits act as a keystone species in southern Europe by exploring relationships between rabbit abundance and the abundance and diversity of raptor species. At 20 sites in southern Spain we assessed rabbit abundance through counts of animals along transects and assessed the number of raptor individuals and species through watches from vantage points. In a further 120 locations we also derived an index of rabbit abundance, from pellets and compared this to the presence or absence of the critically endangered Spanish imperial eagle. Rabbit abundance was posi- tively associated with the number of observations of raptors, the number of raptor species and the number of species of conservation concern. Sites with the most rabbits had higher conservation value. Moreover, the presence of Spanish imperial eagle was strongly associ- ated with sites where rabbits were at high density. We conclude that rabbits do act as a key- stone species and we suggest that conservation efforts should focus on improving the status of this small-game species in southern Europe.
Publisher version (URL):http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2007.01.024
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/10261/45486
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