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Can cover crops reduce rabbit-induced damages in vineyards in southern Spain?

AuthorsBarrio, Isabel C.; Villafuerte, Rafael ; Tortosa, Francisco S.
Issue Date2012
PublisherNordic Council for Wildlife Research
CitationWildlife Biology 18(1): 88-96 (2012)
AbstractDamage caused by wildlife foraging can lead to significant agricultural losses and the problem can be further complicated if the damage-inducing animal is a valuable resource in its own right. Provision of alternative food sources such as cover crops might be a means of reducing the damage which appears to be linked to scarcity of alternative foods in intensively-managed agroecosystems. Cover crops may provide other benefits to agroecosystems, i.e. preventing soil erosion but can potentially have some undesired consequences, i.e. water competition with the cash crop. In our study, we tested the effectiveness of cover crops in reducing the damage caused by foraging European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus to vineyards in a semi-arid agroecosystem in southern Spain. Experimental treatments consisted of a combination of the presence/absence of sown cover crops (70% oat Avena sativa and 30% garden vetch Vicia sativa) with/without rabbit exclusion. In the 2009 growing season, we assessed rabbit-induced damage using a browsing index on vine shoots, rabbit use of plots was estimated based on faecal pellet counts and grapevine yield was measured at harvest. Rabbits ate the cover crops, and rabbit use was highest in the plots sown with the oat and vetch cover crop. However, the effect of the presence of the cover crop on the amount of damage caused by rabbits was limited and, moreover, the presence of the cover crop had a negative effect on grapevine yield. Exclosure fences effectively reduced rabbit damage by keeping rabbit densities close to zero, but even a low rabbit number (∼ 1 rabbit/ha) can cause significant damage. Although cover crops provided rabbits with an alternative food source, they acted as attractants for rabbits and were not effective in reducing the damage caused to vineyards by higher rabbit numbers. Therefore, adding cover crops might not be an effective measure in controlling rabbit-induced damage in semi-arid wine-growing regions.
Identifiersdoi: 10.2981/10-110
issn: 0909-6396
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