Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 559–574 | Cite as

Rabbit populations and game management: the situation after 15 years of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in central-southern Spain

  • Miguel Delibes-Mateos
  • Pablo Ferreras
  • Rafael Villafuerte
Original Paper


Over recent decades wild rabbit populations have undergone a sharp decline in Spain with consequent negative impact both on a game-based economy, and on the conservation of threatened species that depend on rabbits. We investigated the relationships between rabbit population change and habitat and game management in central-southern Spain. To determine recent rabbit population changes we revisited 60 localities during summer 2002 to repeat surveys previously carried out in 1993. Each survey consisted of 4-km walked transects to record indices of rabbit abundance. The percentage of vegetation cover and of different soil types were also estimated during these transects. In the same areas, the type and intensity of game management practices were obtained by interviewing hunting managers, hunters or gamekeepers. Rabbit populations were stable or increasing only in 26.6% of the studied populations, more commonly in areas with soft soils where warren building is easier for rabbits and where rabbits were an important game species and managed to increase their numbers. Although we could not establish causality, habitat management and predator removal were the main management practices related to rabbit population change. Rabbit scarcity in Spain constitutes a serious problem for conservation, so hunters, researchers and policy makers need to reach a consensus to establish a long-term program to monitor rabbit population trends and share results obtained, especially when intense manage programs are being carried out to improve rabbit abundance.


Conservation Game management Habitat management Oryctolagus cuniculus Predator control Rabbit recovery Spain 



Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease


Categorical variable regarding the importance of rabbits as game species: (1) big game hunting areas; (2) areas where at least two other small game species were more important than rabbits; (3) localities where rabbits were considered the second important game species; and (4) hunting areas where rabbits were the main game species.


Categorical variable regarding the type of hunting area: public, private or non-hunting estates.


Relative Density Index. Principal Component Analysis was used to express four correlated variables (the number of rabbits seen, the number of latrines, the number of warren entrances and the number of scrapes) as a single rabbit abundance index.


The rate of rabbit population change \( RATE = \frac{{RDI2002 - RDI1993}} {{RDI1993}} \)



First author was supported by a I3P grant funded by the European Social Fund through the “Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas” (CSIC). Funding was provided by the projects FAU 2006-0014-C02-02, PAI 06-0170, and CGL 2005-02340/BOS by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. We thank Drs B. Cooke, S. Redpath and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript. We are indebted to Dr J. Vicente for statistical assistance. Special thanks go to J.C. Blanco, G. Calabuig, J. Castillo, P. Castro, A. Finque, A. Linares, S. Luna, L. Mínguez, M. Reglero, O. Rodríguez, C. Rouco and E. Virgós for field assistance during rabbit surveys and interviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miguel Delibes-Mateos
    • 1
  • Pablo Ferreras
    • 1
  • Rafael Villafuerte
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos CinegéticosIREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)Ciudad RealSpain

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