, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 317-325

Modeling the distribution of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) on a Mediterranean island

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Abstract

The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a widely distributed mammal with an often contradictory ecological role, imposing the need for population management. Sound management requires an in-depth understanding of the complex species–habitat relationships. In this study, CART analysis was employed to identify the most important environmental and anthropogenic factors affecting the spatial distribution of wild rabbit on Lemnos Island, northeastern Aegean Sea in Greece. On Lemnos, this species is considered an agricultural pest due to its overabundance resulting from the long-term absence of viral diseases, limited predation pressure, and lack of effective management. The study was carried out during the summer of 2008 by surveying rabbit densities in 181 2 × 2-km squares. Seven environmental and 14 anthropogenic variables, measured at two spatial scales, were used as explanatory variables. Soil hardness was the most influential variable, dividing the island into two distinct areas, namely the rabbit-poor areas with hard rocky soils and the rabbit-rich areas where soft soils prevail. In the former, the presence of a sharp relief can lead to complete absence of the species, while a combination of gentle relief, low altitudes, and low presence of arable land can lead to moderate rabbit density. In the latter, human-caused disturbance can reduce the number of rabbits, while a high density of ecotones and streams and a high presence of riparian vegetation can increase population densities to its highest levels observed. Our findings can formulate a scientific basis for the development of an effective management strategy for its population control.