The short-term effect of total predation exclusion on wild rabbit abundance in restocking plots
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About half a million rabbits are translocated in southwestern Europe every year for conservation and hunting purposes. However, the success of traditional rabbit restocking is generally extremely low, and this has been attributed to short-term predation by mammalian carnivores. Hence, recent recovery programs have tackled the problem of terrestrial predators with the use of exclusion fences, but no additional measures have been employed to avoid aerial predation. In this study, we have therefore conducted a field experiment to test the short-term effect of total predation exclusion in rabbit restocking enclosures, comparing rabbit abundance in plots which are only accessible to raptors (top-open plots) and plots which are accessible to neither carnivores nor raptors (top-closed plots). The results showed that the top-closed plots had higher rabbit abundance in the short term, and the highest difference in rabbit abundance between the two kinds of fences was attained in the first 2 weeks. We therefore conclude that the top-closed plots were an effective tool to increase rabbit abundance during the first weeks after release through the exclusion of raptor predation.
KeywordsOryctolagus cuniculus Predator exclusion Rabbit conservation Raptors Restocking
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