European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 335–340 | Cite as

Assessment of methods for estimating wild rabbit population abundance in agricultural landscapes

  • Isabel C. BarrioEmail author
  • Pelayo Acevedo
  • Francisco S. Tortosa
Original Paper


Various methods have been used to estimate rabbit abundance, but comparisons of standard methods are still lacking, and thus, results remain roughly comparable across studies. Ideally, a method should be applicable over a wide range of situations, such as differing abundances or habitat types. Comparisons of methods are required to evaluate the benefits of each of them, and survey methods should be validated for the conditions in which they will be used. In this study, we compare the performance of direct methods (kilometric abundance index and distance sampling) in two seasons and at two times of day (dusk and night) for estimating wild rabbit abundances in agricultural landscapes. Estimates based on direct methods were highly correlated and detected similar seasonal population changes. Night counts provided better estimates than did dusk counts and exhibited more precision. Results are discussed within the context of rabbit behaviour and their implications for rabbit population surveys.


Lagomorphs Oryctolagus cuniculus Distance sampling Kilometric abundance index 



Funding was provided by FEDENCA. ICB was supported by a PhD fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. PA is currently enjoying a Juan de la Cierva research contract awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and is supported by the project CGL2006-09567/BOS. We extend special thanks to F. Cirilli, J.D. Jimena, J.M. Guerrero, and P. Rodríguez-Hidalgo for assistance in the field. We are also grateful to C.G. Bueno and H. Rödel for providing useful comments, S. Petrovan for useful discussions, B. MacWhirter for improving the English version, and A. Ríos for his hospitality.


  1. Acevedo P, Ruiz-Fons F, Vicente J, Reyes-Garcia AR, Alzaga V, Gortázar C (2008) Estimating red deer abundance in a wide range of management situations in Mediterranean habitats. J Zool 276(1):37–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ballinger A, Morgan DG (2002) Validating two methods for monitoring population size of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Wildl Res 29:431–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beltrán JF (1991) Temporal abundance pattern of the wild rabbit in Doñana, SW Spain. Mammalia 55(4):591–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanco JC, Villafuerte R (1993) Factores ecológicos que influyen sobre las poblaciones de conejos. Incidencia de la enfermedad hemorrágica. Empresa de Transformación Agraria, MadridGoogle Scholar
  5. Caley P, Morley CG (2002) Assessing growth rates of European rabbit populations using spotlight transect counts. J Wildl Manage 66(1):131–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Calvete C, Estrada R, Angulo E, Cabezas-Ruiz S (2004) Habitat factors related to wild rabbit conservation in an agricultural landscape. Landsc Ecol 19:531–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2008) Rabbit populations and game management: the situation after 15 years of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in central-southern Spain. Biodivers Conserv 17:559–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2009) European rabbit population trends and associated factors: a review of the situation in the Iberian Peninsula. Mammal Rev 39(2):124–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Engeman RM (2005) Indexing principles and a widely applicable paradigm for indexing animal populations. Wildl Res 32:203–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fletcher DJ, Moller H, Clapperton BK (1999) Spotlight counts for assessing abundance of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.). Wildl Res 26:609–620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. García-Montoya F (1989) Catálogo florístico de la Campiña Alta de la provincia de Córdoba. Universidad de Córdoba, CórdobaGoogle Scholar
  12. Gortázar C (1997) Relative Häufigkeit von Wildkaninchen (Oryctolagus cuniculus) und Rotfuchs (Vulpes vulpes) nach Auftreten der hämorrhagischen Kaninchenkrankheit im zentralen Ebrobecken in Nordwestspanien. Zeitschrift für Jagdwissenschaft 43:259–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hounsome TD, Young RP, Davison J, Yarnell RW, Trewby ID, Garnett BT, Delahay RJ, Wilson GJ (2005) An evaluation of distance sampling to estimate badger (Meles meles) abundance. J Zool 266:81–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Langbein J, Hutchings MR, Harris S, Stoate C, Tapper SC, Wray S (1999) Techniques for assessing the abundance of Brown Hares Lepus europaeus. Mammal Rev 29(2):93–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lees AC, Bell DJ (2008) A conservation paradox for the 21st century: the European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, an invasive alien and an endangered native species. Mammal Rev 38(4):304–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marchandeau S, Aubineau J, Berger F, Gaudin JC, Roobrouck A, Corda E, Reitz F (2006) Abundance indices: reliability testing is crucial—a field case of wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus. Wildl Biol 12(1):19–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Marchandeau S, Gaudin JC (1994) Effets du sens du transect et de la période d'observation sur la valeur des indices kilométriques d'abondance de lapins de garenne (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Gibier Faune Sauvage 11:85–91Google Scholar
  18. Martins H, Barbosa H, Hodgson M, Borralho R, Rego F (2003) Effect of vegetation type and environmental factors on European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus counts in a southern Portuguese montado. Acta Theriol 48:385–398Google Scholar
  19. Moreno S, Beltran JF, Cotilla I, Kuffner B, Laffite R, Jordán G, Ayala J, Quintero C, Jiménez A, Castro F, Cabezas S, Villafuerte R (2007) Long-term decline of the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south-western Spain. Wildl Res 34:652–658Google Scholar
  20. Newey S, Bell M, Enthoven S, Thirgood S (2003) Can distance sampling and dung plots be used to assess the density of mountain hares Lepus timidus? Wildl Biol 9:185–192Google Scholar
  21. Newson SE, Evans KL, Noble DG, Greenwood JJD, Gaston KJ (2008) Use of distance sampling to improve estimates of national population sizes for common and widespread breeding birds in the UK. J Appl Ecol 45:1330–1338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Palomares F (2001) Comparision of three methods to estimate rabbit abundance in a Mediterranean environment. Wildl Soc Bull 29(2):578–585Google Scholar
  23. Poole DW (2003) Developing a census method based on sight counts to estimate rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) numbers. Wildl Res 30(5):487–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. R Development Core Team (2008) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Austria R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  25. Reid N, Montgomery WI (2007) Is naturalisation of the brown hare in Ireland a threat to the endemic Irish hare? Proc Roy Irish Acad 107B(3):129–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ruette S, Stahl P, Albaret M (2003) Applying distance-sampling methods to spotlight counts of red foxes. J Appl Ecol 40:32–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tellería JL (1986) Manual para el censo de vertebrados terrestres. Editorial Raíces, MadridGoogle Scholar
  28. Thomas L, Laake JL, Strindberg S, Marques FFC, Buckland ST, Borchers DL, Anderson DR, Burnham KP, Hedley SL, Pollard JH, Bishop JRB, Marques TA (2006). Distance 5.0. Release 2 Research Unit for Wildlife Population Assessment, University of St. Andrews, UKGoogle Scholar
  29. Villafuerte R, Kufner MB et al (1993) Environmental factors influencing the seasonal daily activity of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in a Mediterranean area. Mammalia 57(3):341–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ward AI, White PCL, Critchley CH (2004) Roe deer Capreolus capreolus behaviour affects density estimates from distance sampling surveys. Mammal Rev 34(4):315–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Williams CJ, Parer I, Coman BJ, Burley J, Braysher ML (1995) Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits. Australian Government Publishing Service, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  32. Williams D, Acevedo P, Gortazar C, Escudero MA, Labarta JL, Marco J, Villafuerte R (2007) Hunting for answers: rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population trends in northeastern Spain. Eur J Wildl Res 53:19–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabel C. Barrio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pelayo Acevedo
    • 2
    • 3
  • Francisco S. Tortosa
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CordobaCórdobaSpain
  2. 2.Biogeography, Diversity, and Conservation Research Team, Department of Animal Biology, Faculty of SciencesUniversity of MalagaMálagaSpain
  3. 3.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos IREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)Ciudad RealSpain

Personalised recommendations