, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 63-74

Influence of herbaceous cover, shelter and land cover structure on wild rabbit abundance in NW Portugal

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Abstract

The European wild rabbitOryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758) populations in the Iberian Peninsula has suffered a serious decline. Therefore, the knowledge about the factors that influence rabbit distribution and abundance is of major interest for conservation and management programmes. Rabbit relative abundance was evaluated by pellet counting in relation to herbaceous ground cover, shelter availability (tall scrub cover and gaps in rocks) and land cover structure in the Peneda-Gerês National Park (PGNP), NW Portugal. Rabbit abundance was higher at intermediate levels of herbaceous cover, but no significant statistical differences were detected. A strong association between the abundance index and tall scrub cover was verified, and when this cover was rare, an association with gaps in rocks was observed. At the land cover level, rabbit abundance was associated with high interspersion sites of rocks with matorral and high interspersion sites of tall scrubland. Evidence from this study highlighted the importance of shelter and the interspersion of open/shelter habitats for rabbits. This pattern could be interpreted as an anti-predator strategy. Therefore, management actions should favour the growing and establishing of tall scrub patches and the selective cutting in highly continuous areas of tall scrub vegetation.

Associate Editors were Bogumiłejewska and Krzysztof Schmidt.