European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 19–28 | Cite as

Hunting for answers: rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population trends in northeastern Spain

  • Daryl Williams
  • Pelayo Acevedo
  • Christian Gortázar
  • Marco A. Escudero
  • José Luis Labarta
  • Javier Marco
  • Rafael Villafuerte
Original Paper

Abstract

Some populations of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Spain have recovered after rabbit hemorrhagic disease, but others (the majority) have not recovered. The European wild rabbit is a keystone species in Spain’s Mediterranean ecosystems, and several factors have been studied to determine what will stabilize populations and possibly propagate recovery. Many of the previous efforts to determine these pivotal factors have been short-term studies focused on few localities. Most management efforts and studies focused on the well-preserved habitats of southwestern Spain. Our objective was to examine spotlight counts from 60 localities over the past 13 years following the arrival of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in Aragón, northeastern Spain, to estimate rabbit population trends using linear regressions. The number of rabbits seen was transformed into a rough kilometric abundance index. With this data, we calculated a population trend index only for those localities with 6 or more years of data (n=42). No clear population trends were observed for the study period at a regional scale [\( \overline{X} \)±SE, range]; (0.065±0.081 from −0.860 to 0.915). We also examined factors that potentially influence regional rabbit population trends, including vegetation, topography, soil softness, climate, predator population trends, and hunting pressure. Our results indicate that rabbit trends have their strongest positive correlation with low hunting pressure and are negatively affected in areas of hard soils. In Aragón, the best populations of endangered raptors are concentrated in the Central Valley, which is the same area where rabbit populations are currently increasing.

Keywords

Abundance Diseases European wild rabbit Human influence Iberian Peninsula 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We are deeply indebted to all the rangers of the Fish and Game Service, Aragón Government, and with the staff of Ebronatura. The authors would also like to thank Pete Copley and Roger Smith, who added great insight to earlier drafts of this manuscript. Two anonymous referees improved the first version of the manuscript. This is a contribution to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between Texas A&M University and Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha. Daryl Williams received a grant from Texas A&M University Summer Veterinary Student Research Fellowship Program and additional funding from the McMillan Endowment.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl Williams
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pelayo Acevedo
    • 2
  • Christian Gortázar
    • 2
  • Marco A. Escudero
    • 3
  • José Luis Labarta
    • 3
  • Javier Marco
    • 3
  • Rafael Villafuerte
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Veterinary MedicineTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos IREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)Ciudad RealSpain
  3. 3.El Burgo de EbroSpain

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