Is the interaction between rabbit hemorrhagic disease and hyperpredation by raptors a major cause of the red-legged partridge decline in Spain?
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Hyperpredation can be described as a restrictive case of apparent competition where an increased number of primary prey species indirectly induces the decrease of the secondary prey species through numerical response of predators to the primary prey dynamics. It has been proposed that rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which decimated populations of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Spain, led to prey switching by raptors towards red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) causing declines in their populations as a peculiar case of hyperpredation.
We have reviewed field studies that disagree with estimates (based on bag records) of recent increases of rabbit and partridge numbers in Spain. Because of an increase in releases of farm-reared animals, there is doubt about the use of bag records to accurately estimate population trends in recent decades. We also provide new data and discuss some analytical considerations related to the temporal and spatial scales that might affect the interpretation of data. Finally, we discuss why studies associated with raptor food habits, predator population dynamics and predator distribution suggest that diet data are not sufficient to link patterns and processes. Although we agree that the RHD outbreak has markedly affected rabbit populations, which has indirectly affected many other species in the Iberian Peninsula, we consider that hyperpredation mediated by raptors has not been clearly demonstrated. In contrast, endorsing the hypothesis of raptor-mediated hyperpredation without sufficient proof may have conflictive consequences if we consider the increased persecution of raptors in recent decades in Spain.
KeywordsAlectoris Emerging disease Hunting Mediterranean ecosystem Oryctolagus Predator persecution Shooting
J.A. Blanco-Aguiar was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (SFRH/BPD/65464/2009) grant. M. Delibes-Mateos was supported by a Juan de la Cierva research contract awarded by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación—Fondo European Social Fund. F. Casas was supported by a postdoctoral grant of the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla la Mancha (JCCM). We thank the comments provided by Drs. E. Fernández-Juricic M. Moleón, G. Nugent, and anonymous reviewers on previous versions of this manuscript.
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