, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 495-503

Key factors determining the seasonal population growth rate of European wild rabbits and their implications for management

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Abstract

Recently, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has received contrasting considerations due to its multidimensional role in the Mediterranean ecosystems. Within this framework, knowledge of factors determining its population size may have important consequences for designing an effective management plan. In this paper, we quantified the combined influence of the major demographic and mechanistic factors on seasonal population fluctuation of European rabbits on Lemnos Island (Greece), during 2007–2009. We developed a hypothetical model taking into account direct (productivity, predation, hunting pressure, food shortage, habitat treatment) and indirect factors (soil moisture, adverse weather conditions) using structural equation modeling. We tested for their influence on the seasonal population growth rate (spgr) as determined by line transects to estimate rabbit abundance. The productivity induced higher pgr. Food shortage, which is affected by low soil moisture during the late summer and early autumn, is demonstrated to be the most important negative factor followed by the hunting pressure and predation. Demographic and mechanistic factors highlighted in this analysis could be used either for conservation or for controlling populations of the species.

Communicated by C. Gortazar