, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 531-542

Habitat factors related to wild rabbit conservation in an agricultural landscape

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Abstract

Populations of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) have been decreasing since the 1950s. Changes in agricultural practices have been suggested as reasons for their decline in Mediterranean landscapes. We evaluated the environmental variables affecting rabbit distribution in a semiarid agricultural landscape of Northeastern Spain. Sampling was performed in 147 sites randomly distributed across Zaragoza province. At each site, data were recorded in five 100 m segments along a 1 km transect, following ecotones between crops and natural-vegetation areas. A rabbit abundance index was estimated from latrine count, pellet density and number of plots with pellets. In addition to environmental variables that have been shown to be related to rabbit abundance in other habitats, as climate, soil hardness and topography of the site, we measured landscape components related to agricultural use, such as structure of natural vegetation in remaining areas non-devoted to agricultural use and distances to different types of crops and to ecotone between crop and natural vegetation. Our results showed that rabbit abundance was positively correlated to yearly mean temperature, February and May mean rainfall, and negatively correlated to September and November mean rainfall, hardness of soil, and site topography. In relation to agricultural use, rabbit abundance was positively correlated to the scrub structure of natural-vegetation areas and negatively correlated to distance to edge between cultivated unirrigated cereal crops (wheat or barley) and yearly resting cereal crops. Rabbit abundance increased only when the edge between alternate cereal crops was less than 50 m from the ecotone between crops and natural vegetation.

This revised version was published online in May 2005 with corrections to the Cover Date.