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Influence of food abundance and quality on rabbit fluctuations: Conservation and management implications in Donana National Park (SW Spain)

AuthorsVillafuerte, Rafael ; Lazo, Alfonso; Moreno, Sacramento
Issue Date1997
PublisherSociété nationale d'acclimatation et de protection de la nature
CitationRevue d'Ecologie (La Terre et la Vie) 52: 345- 356 (1997)
AbstractEuropean rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are the major prey in Spain for several endangered carnivores and raptors. In recent years, many different efforts have been directed at increasing rabbit populations, and thus enhancing the survival of these endangered predators. The aim of this work was to improve our understanding of the factors that influence the natural variation in rabbit populations, specially those regarding on the food abundance and quality, and to discuss the efforts actually used to manage rabbit populations. Estimates of rabbit abundance were obtained monthly from roadside counts during a 25 month period developed at Donana National Park. Simultaneously, samples of the herbaceous layer were obtained from the area covered by censuses. Fluctuations in rabbit abundance were compared with changes in biomass and quality of the herbaceous plants. Rabbit abundance showed the best fit with the total protein availability in the herbaceous layer. Variations in the precipitation pattern between years, which affected both food availability and rabbit reproduction, and the incidence of the first epizootic of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease, caused the observed differences between maximum values of rabbit abundance in two consecutive years. The relative importance of other factors influencing rabbit numbers in Donana including myxomatosis, predation, and competition for food with large herbivores is discussed.
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