Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) abundance and protected areas in central-southern Spain: why they do not match?
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- Delibes-Mateos, M., Ferreras, P. & Villafuerte, R. Eur J Wildl Res (2009) 55: 65. doi:10.1007/s10344-008-0216-5
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European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), a keystone species in the Iberian Mediterranean ecosystem, are the staple prey of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) and the Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti). These predators require medium to high rabbit densities and a low degree of human disturbance. We compared rabbit abundances in areas of central-southern Spain under three levels of protection and management: protected areas, intensively managed (nonprotected) hunting estates, and other nonprotected areas. We used pellet abundance indices to estimate rabbit density in 118 surveys conducted during the summers of 2002 and 2003. We observed greater rabbit abundance in intensively managed hunting estates compared to protected areas and other nonprotected areas, perhaps because policy makers did not consider rabbit numbers when selecting priority areas. Alternatively, differences in game management practices (e.g., predator control or habitat management) may explain the higher rabbit densities observed in managed hunting estates. Our results suggest that the best feeding conditions for the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle occur in intensively managed hunting areas, where such predators are frequently persecuted. The conservation of these endangered predators may require efforts to increase rabbit densities in protected areas.