Original Paper

European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 433-439

Is the interaction between rabbit hemorrhagic disease and hyperpredation by raptors a major cause of the red-legged partridge decline in Spain?

  • José A. Blanco-AguiarAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto Email author 
  • , Miguel Delibes-MateosAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)
  • , Beatriz ArroyoAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)
  • , Pablo FerrerasAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)
  • , Fabián CasasAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen Zoology Building
  • , Raimundo RealAffiliated withDepartamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Málaga
  • , J. Mario VargasAffiliated withDepartamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Málaga
  • , Rafael VillafuerteAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)
  • , Javier ViñuelaAffiliated withInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)

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Abstract

Hyperpredation can be described as a restrictive case of apparent competition where an increased number of primary prey species indirectly induces the decrease of the secondary prey species through numerical response of predators to the primary prey dynamics. It has been proposed that rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which decimated populations of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Spain, led to prey switching by raptors towards red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) causing declines in their populations as a peculiar case of hyperpredation.

We have reviewed field studies that disagree with estimates (based on bag records) of recent increases of rabbit and partridge numbers in Spain. Because of an increase in releases of farm-reared animals, there is doubt about the use of bag records to accurately estimate population trends in recent decades. We also provide new data and discuss some analytical considerations related to the temporal and spatial scales that might affect the interpretation of data. Finally, we discuss why studies associated with raptor food habits, predator population dynamics and predator distribution suggest that diet data are not sufficient to link patterns and processes. Although we agree that the RHD outbreak has markedly affected rabbit populations, which has indirectly affected many other species in the Iberian Peninsula, we consider that hyperpredation mediated by raptors has not been clearly demonstrated. In contrast, endorsing the hypothesis of raptor-mediated hyperpredation without sufficient proof may have conflictive consequences if we consider the increased persecution of raptors in recent decades in Spain.

Keywords

Alectoris Emerging disease Hunting Mediterranean ecosystem Oryctolagus Predator persecution Shooting