Towards a standardized index of European rabbit abundance in Iberian Mediterranean habitats
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- Fernandez-de-Simon, J., Díaz-Ruiz, F., Cirilli, F. et al. Eur J Wildl Res (2011) 57: 1091. doi:10.1007/s10344-011-0524-z
European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus are a keystone species in Iberian Mediterranean ecosystems. However, the reliability of methods for estimating rabbit abundance, particularly when at low numbers, is not well understood. Further, better standardization of these methodologies would allow abundance estimates to be more reliably compared between areas and periods. Consequently, we compared several frequently used methods of estimating rabbit abundance and assessed their advantages and disadvantages. During the summers of 2008 and 2009, in 11 localities of central-southern Spain we undertook (a) driving transect counts of rabbits, either at dusk or at night, (b) linear transects on foot recording rabbit signs, (c) cleared-plot pellet counts at permanent plots, and (d) standing crop counts, both with and without habitat stratification. Density estimated at night from driving transects using the Distance Sampling method (the reference method against which all other indices were compared) varied from 0 to 2.69 rabbits ha−1. Most pellet-count indices were significantly related to the reference method. In particular, cleared-plot pellet counts in permanent plots corrected for pellet persistence showed the best correlation with the reference method. In contrast, latrine counts were not related to the reference method index, and we recommend against their use. A standard methodology based on cleared-plot pellets counts could be used to monitor rabbit abundance on a large scale.