Landscape Ecology

, Volume 20, Issue 8, pp 897–910

Spatial Patterns in European Rabbit Abundance After a Population Collapse

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10980-004-3976-7

Cite this article as:
Fernández, N. Landscape Ecol (2005) 20: 897. doi:10.1007/s10980-004-3976-7

Abstract

Assessing the associations between spatial patterns in population abundance and environmental heterogeneity is critical for understanding various population processes and for managing species and communities. This study evaluates responses in the abundance of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), an important prey for predators of conservation concern in Mediterranean ecosystems, to environmental heterogeneity at different spatial scales. Multi-scale habitat models of rabbit abundance in three areas of Doñana, south-western Spain, were developed using a spatially extensive dataset of faecal pellet counts as an abundance index. The best models included habitat variables at the three spatial scales examined: distance from lagoons (broad scale), mean landscape shrub coverage and interspersion of pastures (home-range scale), and shrub and pasture cover (microhabitat scale). These variables may well have been related to the availability of food and refuge for the species at the different scales. However, the models’ fit to data and their predictive accuracy for an independent sample varied among the study regions. Accurate predictions in some areas showed that the combination of variables at various spatial scales can provide a reliable method for assessing the abundance of ecologically complex species such as the European rabbit over large areas. On the other hand, the models failed to identify abundance patterns in a population that suffered the strongest demographic collapse after viral epidemics, underlining the difficulty of generalizing this approach. In the latter case, factors difficult to implement in static models such as disease history and prevalence, predator regulation and others may underlie the lack of association. Habitat models can provide useful guidelines for the management of landscape attributes relevant to rabbits and help improve the conservation of Mediterranean communities. However, other influential factors not obviously related to environmental heterogeneity should also be analyzed in more detail.

Keywords

Conservation Epidemics Habitat heterogeneity Mediterranean ecosystems Oryctolagus cuniculus Population density Predictive abundance models Spatial scale 

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied Biology, Doñana Biological StationSpanish Council for Scientific Research – CSICde PerúSpain
  2. 2.Department of Ecological ModellingUFZ – Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-HalleLeipzigGermany

Personalised recommendations