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Open Access item Conservation of European wild rabbit populations when hunting is age and sex selective.
|Citation:||Biological Conservation 121: 623- 634 (2005)|
|Abstract:||Several predator species at risk of extinction in Southwestern Europe are dependent on the population density of European wild rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus. Rabbit populations in the region, however, have recently undergone dramatic decreases in population density, which may be exacerbated by hunting. Current hunting policies set the autumn-winter season, just before the start of rabbit reproduction, as the main hunting season, and previous theoretical models have estimated that the current hunting season may have the greatest negative impact on rabbit abundance and should be changed. We utilised a model for rabbit population dynamics to determine the effects of the timing of hunting during two seasons, summer and autumn, on the tendency of rabbit populations to be over-harvested and on the number of rabbits hunted. This model included field estimates of age- and sex-selection biases of hunting by shotgun. Scenarios with different hunting rates and sex- and age-selection probabilities of hunting were simulated for populations with different turnover levels and with and without compensatory mortality mechanisms. Field estimations showed that hunting in summer was juvenile-biased whereas autumn hunting was juvenile- and male-biased. In contrast to previous findings, our modelling results suggested that hunting in autumn may be the most conservative option for harvesting of rabbit populations, since these populations were more prone to be over-harvested during the summer. The differences between the two seasons in number of rabbits hunted were dependent on population dynamics and hunting sex- and age-selection probabilities. Our findings suggest that altering of current hunting policies would not optimise the exploitation or conservation of wild rabbit populations, but that the latter may be improved by some changes in the timing of hunting. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.|
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