European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 885–895 | Cite as

European rabbit research in the Iberian Peninsula: state of the art and future perspectives



The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a high-profile prey, native from the Iberian Peninsula, the only region in the world where the two rabbit subspecies (O. cuniculus algirus and O. cuniculus cuniculus) currently co-exist in natural conditions. In this area, this important prey represents a keystone species and ecosystem engineer of Mediterranean landscapes, being also the most harvested and one of the most managed small-game species. Additionally, the species can create damage to crops in some parts of the Iberian Peninsula where it is regarded as an agricultural pest. The scientific interest towards the species is becoming increasingly apparent most likely as a repercussion of declining population trends over the last decades. The latter has been the result of the impact of habitat deterioration, viral diseases, unsustainable hunting, and predation. In this paper, I present a review of the scientific literature currently available on the European rabbit in the Iberian Peninsula. I discuss knowledge gaps and highlight priority research guidelines to suppress them, in an attempt to provide a general perspective to target research efforts more effectively. This analysis is particularly relevant due to the current vulnerability of rabbit populations in Iberia and to the recent news of cuts in scientific funding in most Mediterranean countries.


Oryctolagus cuniculus Spain Portugal Population management Wild rabbit conservation Research guidelines 

Supplementary material

10344_2012_664_MOESM1_ESM.docx (87 kb)
ESM 1(DOCX 86 kb)


  1. Alcaraz C, Morais S (2012) Citations: results differ by database. Nature 483:36PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson DR (2001) The need to get the basics right in wildlife field studies. Wild Soc Bull 29:1294–1297Google Scholar
  3. Argüello JL, Llano A, Pérez-Ordoyo LL (1988) Enfermedad vírica hemorrágica del conejo en España. Med Vet 5(12):645–650Google Scholar
  4. Barrio IC (2010) The rabbit as an agricultural pest in its native distribution range. Doctoral dissertation, University of CórdobaGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrio IC, Bueno GC, Tortosa FS (2010) Alternative food and rabbit damage in vineyards of southern Spain. Agr Ecos Env 138:51–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrio IC, Vllafuerte R, Tortosa FS (2011) Harbouring pests: Rabbit warrens in agricultural landscapes. Wild Res 38(8):756–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beltrán JF (1991) Temporal abundance pattern of the wild rabbit in Doñana, SW Spain. Mammalia 55(4):591–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blanco JC, Villafuerte R (1993) Factores ecológicos que influyen sobre las poblaciones de conejos. Incidencia de la enfermedad hemorrágica. Technical report, Empresa de Transformación Agraria, S.A., MadridGoogle Scholar
  9. Blázquez MC, Villafuerte R (1990) Nesting of the Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) inside rabbit warrens at Doñana National Park (SW Spain): phenology and a probable case of communal nesting. J Zool 222:692–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cabral MJ, Almeida J, Almeida PR, Dellinger T, Ferrand de Almeida N, Oliveira ME, Palmeirim JM, Queiroz AI, Rogado L, Santos-Reis M (2005) Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. ICNB, LisboaGoogle Scholar
  11. Calvete C, Estrada R, Villafuerte R, Osácar JJ, Lucientes J (2002) Epidemiology of viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) and myxomatosis in free-living population of wild rabbits. Vet Rec 150:776–782PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calvete C, Pelayo E, Sampietro J (2006) Habitat factors related to wild rabbit population trends after the initial impact of rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Wild Res 33:467–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Calzada J (2000) Impacto de predación y selección de presa del lince ibérico y el zorro sobre el conejo. Galemys 12(2):45–46Google Scholar
  14. Carvalho JC, Gomes P (2004) Influence of herbaceous cover, shelter and land cover structure on wild rabbit abundance in NW Portugal. Acta Ther 49(1):63–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Conservation International (2004) Hotspots Revisited. Available at: Accessed 20 Feb 2012
  16. Cooke BD (2008) Managing the European rabbit: converging interests between Australian research for rabbit control and European research for their conservation. In: Alves PC, Ferrand N, Hackländer K (eds) Lagomorph biology: evolution, ecology, and conservation. Springer, Berlin, pp 317–326Google Scholar
  17. Cooke BD (2012) Rabbits: manageable environmental pests or participants in new Australian ecosystems? Wild Res 39:279–289Google Scholar
  18. Cowan PE, Tyndale-Biscoe CH (1997) Australian and New Zealand mammal species considered to be pests or problems. Rep Fert Dev 9(1):27–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Delibes M (1978) Ecología alimenticia del Águila Imperial Ibérica Aquila adalberti durante la crianza de los pollos en el Coto de Doñana. Doñana, Acta Vert 5:35–60Google Scholar
  20. Delibes M (1980) Feeding ecology of the Spanish lynx in the Coto Doñana. Acta Ther 25(24):309–324Google Scholar
  21. Delibes M, Hiraldo F (1981) The rabbit as prey in the Iberian Mediterranean ecosystem. In: Myers K, MacInnes CD (eds) Proceedings of the world lagomorph conference. University of Guelph, OntarioGoogle Scholar
  22. Delibes-Mateos M, Redpath S, Angulo A, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2007) Rabbits as a keystone species in southern Europe. Biol Cons 137:149–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Delibes-Mateos M, Delibes M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2008a) Key role of European rabbits in the conservation of the western Mediterranean Basin Hotspot. Cons Biol 22:1106–1117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2008b) Rabbit populations and game management: the situation after 15 years of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in central-southern Spain. Biodiv Cons 17:559–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2009a) Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) abundance and protected areas in central-southern Spain: why they do not match? Eur J Wildl Res 55:65–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P, Villafuerte R (2009b) European rabbit population trends and associated factors: a review of the situation in the Iberian Peninsula. Mamm Rev 39:124–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Delibes-Mateos M, Smith AT, Slobodchikoff CN, Swenson JE (2011) The paradox of keystone species persecuted as pests: a call for the conservation of abundant small mammals in their native range. Biol Cons 144:1335–1346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Falagas ME, Pitsouni EI, Malietzis GA, Pappas G (2008) Comparison of PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar: strengths and weaknesses. FASEB J 22:338–342PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fernández C, Ceballos O (1990) Uneven sex-ratio of wild rabbits taken by golden eagles. Ornis Scand 21(3):236–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fernández N (2005) Spatial patterns in European rabbit abundance after a population collapse. Land Ecol 20:897–910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fernandez-de-Simon J, Díaz-Ruiz F, Cirilli F, Tortosa FS, Villafuerte R, Delibes-Mateos M, Ferreras P (2011) Towards a standardized index of European rabbit abundance in Iberian Mediterranean habitats. Eur J Wildl Res 57:1091–1100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ferrand N (2008) Inferring the evolutionary history of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from molecular markers. In: Alves PC, Ferrand N, Hackländer K (eds) Lagomorph biology: evolution, ecology, and conservation. Springer, Berlin, pp 47–63Google Scholar
  33. Ferreira C, Delibes-Mateos M (2010) Wild rabbit management in the Iberian Peninsula: state of the art and future perspectives for Iberian lynx conservation. Wildl Biol Pract 6(3):48–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ferreira C, Paupério J, Alves PC (2010) The usefulness of field data and hunting statistics in the assessment of wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) conservation status in Portugal. Wildl Res 37:223–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ferreras P, Travaini A, Zapata SC, Delibes M (2011) Short-term responses of mammalian carnivores to a sudden collapse of rabbits in Mediterranean Spain. Basic Appl Ecol 12:116–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Galante E, Cartagena MC (1999) Comparison of Mediterranean dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea) in cattle and rabbit dung. Env Entom 28:420–424Google Scholar
  37. Gálvez-Bravo L, Belliure J, Rebollo S (2009) European rabbits as ecosystem engineers: warrens increase density and diversity of lizards. Biodiv Cons 18:869–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gil-Sánchez JM, McCain EB (2011) Former range and decline of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) reconstructed using verified records. J Mamm 92(5):1081–1090CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gómez-Sal A, Rey-Benayas JM, López-Pintor A, Rebollo S (1999) Role of disturbance in maintaining a savanna-like pattern in Mediterranean Retama sphaerocarpa shrubland. J Veg Sci 10:365–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Guillon P, Ruvoën-Clouet N, Le Moullac-Vaidye B, Marchandeau S, Le Pendu J (2009) Association between expression of the H histo-blood group antigen, α1,2fucosyltransferases polymorphism of wild rabbits and sensitivity to RHDV. Glycobiology 19:21–28Google Scholar
  41. Hulbert IAR, Iason GR, Racey PA (1996) Habitat utilization in a stratified upland landscape by two lagomorphs with different feeding strategies. J Appl Ecol 33:315–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. IUCN (2010) IUCN red list of threatened species. Version 2010.4. Available at: Accessed 10 January 2012
  43. Jahnke M, Holmes EC, Kerr PJ, Wright JD, Strive T (2010) Evolution and phylogeography of the nonpathogenic calicivirus RCV-A1 in wild rabbits in Australia. J Virol 84:12397–12404PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kerr PJ (2012) Myxomatosis in Australia and Europe: a model for emerging infectious diseases. Antivir Res 93:387–415PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lavazza A, Capucci L (2008) How many caliciviruses are there in rabbits? A review on RHDV and correlated viruses. In: Alves PC, Ferrand N, Hackländer K (eds) Lagomorph biology: evolution, ecology, and conservation. Springer, Berlin, pp 263–278Google Scholar
  46. 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
  47. Le Gall-Reculé G, Zwingelstein F, Fages M-P, Bertagnoli S, Gelfi J, Aubineau J, Roobrouck A, Botti G, Lavazza A, Marchandeau S (2011) Characterisation of a non-pathogenic and non-protective infectious rabbit lagovirus related to RHDV. Virology 410:395–402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lombardi L, Fernández N, Moreno S, Villafuerte R (2003) Habitat-related differences in rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) abundance, distribution and activity. J Mamm 84(1):26–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lombardi L, Fernández N, Moreno S (2007) Habitat use and spatial behavior in the European rabbit in three Mediterranean environments. Basic Appl Ecol 8:453–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mesléard F, Mauchamp A, Pineau O, Dutoit T (2011) Rabbit is more effective than cattle to limit shrub colonization in Mediterranean xero-halophitic meadows. Ecoscience 18(1):37–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mills LS, Soulé ME, Doak DF (1993) The keystone-species concept in ecology and conservation. BioScience 43(4):219–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moreno S, Villafuerte R (1995) Traditional management of scrubland for the conservation of rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus, and their predators in Doñana National Park, Spain. Biol Cons 73(1):81–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Moro-Martín A (2012) Spanish changes are scientific suicide. Nature 482:277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Moseby KE, De Jong S, Munro N, Pieck A (2005) Home range, activity and habitat use of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in arid Australia: implications for control. Wildl Res 32:305–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Muñoz G (1960) Anverso y reverso de la mixomatosis. Dirección General de Montes, Caza y Pesca Fluvial, MadridGoogle Scholar
  56. Myers N, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, da Fonseca GAB, Kent J (2000) Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853–858PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nyström K, Le Gall-Reculé G, Grassi P, Abrantes J, Ruvoën-Clouet N, Le Moullac-Vaidye B, Lopes AM, Esteves PJ, Strive T, Marchandeau S, Dell A, Haslam SM, Le Pendu J (2011) Histo-blood group antigens act as attachment factors of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus infection in a virus strain-dependent manner. PLoS Pathogens 7:e1002188Google Scholar
  58. Paixão R, Godinho S, Santos P (2009) Is the Nature 2000 Network associated with small-game bag results? Eur J Wildl Res 55:553–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Palomares F, Delibes M, Revilla E, Calzada J, Fedriani JM (2001) Spatial ecology of Iberian lynx and abundance of European rabbits in southwestern Spain. Wildl Monogr 148:1–36Google Scholar
  60. Palomares F, Rodríguez A, Revilla E, López-Bao JV, Calzada J (2011) Assessment of the conservation efforts to prevent extinction of the Iberian lynx. Cons Biol 25(1):4–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Piorno V (2006) Gestión cinegética y conservación del conejo de monte. Doctoral dissertation, University of VigoGoogle Scholar
  62. Quantum GIS Development Team (2012). Quantum GIS Geographic Information System. Open Source Geospatial Foundation. Available at: Accessed 10 January 2012
  63. Revilla E, Palomares F, Fernández N (2001) Characteristics, location and selection of diurnal resting dens by Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) in a low density area. J Zool 255:291–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Ríos-Saldaña CA, Cañadilla J, Martínez E, Castro F, Vargas JM, Villafuerte R (2007) Rescatando las fuentes de información: las solicitudes de control de conejo en España. In: SECEM (ed) Proceedings of the VIII Jornadas de la Sociedad Española para la Conservación y Estudio de los Mamíferos, HuelvaGoogle Scholar
  65. Ríos-Saldaña CA (2010) Los Planes Técnicos de Caza de Castilla-La Mancha y su aplicación en la gestión y conservación de las especies cinegéticas. Doctoral dissertation, University of Castilla-La ManchaGoogle Scholar
  66. Rogers PM, Myers K (1979) Ecology of the European wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), in Mediterranean habitats: I. Distribution in the landscape of the Coto de Doñana, S. Spain. J Appl Ecol 16(3):691–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sánchez-Botija C, Arroyo C, Blanco A (1954) Identificación de la mixomatosis del conejo en España. Rev Patron Biol Anim 1:75–78Google Scholar
  68. Scanlan JC, Berman DM, Grant WE (2006) Population dynamics of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in north eastern Australia: simulated responses to control. Ecol Modelling 196:221–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Smith AT, Boyer AF (2008) Oryctolagus cuniculus. In: IUCN red list of threatened species 2011. Version 2011.2. Available at: Accessed 20 February 2012
  70. Soriguer RC (1980) El conejo, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L), en Andalucía Occidental: parámetros corporales y curva de crecimiento. Doñana, Acta Vert 7(1):83–90Google Scholar
  71. Soriguer RC (1981a) Biología y dinamica de una población de conejos en Andalucía occidental. Doñana, Acta Vert 8(3):1–379Google Scholar
  72. Soriguer RC (1981b) Consideraciones sobre el efecto de los conejos y los grandes herbívoros en los pastizales de la Vera de Doñana. Doñana, Acta Vert 10:155–168Google Scholar
  73. Soriguer RC (1988) Alimentación del conejo (Oryctolagus cuniculus L. 1758) en Doñana, SO, España. Doñana, ActaVert 15(1):141–150Google Scholar
  74. Soriguer RC, Myers K (1981) Morphological, physiological and reproductive features of a wild rabbit population in Mediterranean Spain under different habitat management. Mamm Rev 16(3–4):197–198Google Scholar
  75. Spiesschaert B, McFadden G, Hermans K, Nauwynck H, Van de Walle GR (2011) The current status and future directions of myxoma virus, a master in immune evasion. Vet Res 42:76PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Strive T, Wright DJ, Robinson AJ (2009) Identification and partial characterisation of a new lagovirus in Australian wild rabbits. Virology 384:97–105PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Strive T, Wright J, Kovaliski J, Botti G, Capucci L (2010) The non-pathogenic Australian lagovirus RCV-A1 causes a prolonged infection and elicits partial cross-protection to rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus. Virology 398:125–134PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tablado Z (2010) Patrones globales en reproducción y mortalidad de conejo de monte y su impacto en la dinámica de las poblaciones. Doctoral dissertation, University of SevilleGoogle Scholar
  79. Valverde JA (1967) Estructura de una comunidad de vertebrados terrestres. Monografías de la Estación Biológica de Doñana, no 1. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, MadridGoogle Scholar
  80. Villafuerte R, Calvete C, Gortázar C, Moreno S (1994) First epizootic of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in free living populations of Oryctolagus cuniculus at Doñana National park, Spain. J Wildl Dis 30:176–179PubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Villafuerte R, Viñuela J, Blanco JC (1998) Extensive predator persecution caused by population crash in a game species: the case of red kites and rabbits in Spain. Biol Cons 84:181–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Villafuerte R, Delibes-Mateos M (2007) El conejo. In: Palomo LJ, Gisbert J, Blanco JC (eds) Atlas y Libro Rojo de los Mamíferos Terrestres de España. Ministerio de Medioambiente-Dirección General para la Biodiversidad-SECEM, Madrid, pp 490–491Google Scholar
  83. Villanúa D, Olaiz I, Castién E, Artazcoz R, Torres J, Leránoz I, Larumbe J, Ardaiz J, Cormenzana A (2005) El conejo de monte (Oryctolagus cuniculus) en la Comunidad Foral de Navarra; evolución en el tiempo y riesgos asociados a su recuperación. In: SECEM (ed) Proceedings of the VII Jornadas de la Sociedad Española para la Conservación y Estudio de los Mamíferos, ValenciaGoogle Scholar
  84. Ward D (2005) Reversing rabbit decline: one of the biggest challenges for nature conservation in Spain and Portugal. IUCN Technical Report. Available at:
  85. Willot SJ, Miller AJ, Incoll LD, Compton SG (2000) The contribution of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) to soil fertility in semi-arid Spain. Biol Fert Soils 31:379–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC-CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)Ciudad RealSpain
  2. 2.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (Universidade do Porto)Campus Agrário de VairãoVairãoPortugal

Personalised recommendations