, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 847-858
Date: 07 Jun 2013

Effectiveness of habitat management in the recovery of low-density populations of wild rabbit

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Abstract

Understanding the relationship between spatial patterns of landscape attributes and population presence and abundance is essential for understanding population processes as well as supporting management and conservation strategies. This study evaluates the influence of three factors: environment, habitat management, and season on the presence and abundance of the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), an important prey species for Mediterranean endangered predator species. To address this issue, we estimated wild rabbit presence and abundance by latrine counting in transects located in 45 plots within a 250 × 250 m grid from June 2007 until June 2009 in a 1,200 ha hunting area in southern Portugal. We then analyzed how wild rabbit presence and abundance correlate with the aforementioned factors. Our results showed that the main variable influencing wild rabbit presence and abundance was the distance to the artificial warrens. North and northeast slope directions were negatively related to wild rabbit presence. Conversely, rabbit presence was positively correlated with short distances to ecotone, artificial warrens, and spring. Regarding rabbit abundance, in addition to artificial warrens, soft soils, bushes, and season also had a positive effect. We found that environmental variables, management practices, and season each affect wild rabbit presence and abundance differently at a home range scale in low-density population. Thus, our major recommendations are reducing the distance to artificial warrens and ecotone, ideally to less than 100 m, and promoting habitat quality improvement on slopes with plenty of sun exposure.

Communicated by: C. Gortázar