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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.

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The authors would like to thank A. Carpio for his help during data collection, S. Newton for reviewing the English, S. Crespo for her support, and I.C. Barrio for her statistical assistance. The staff of Andalusia Environmental Government provided logistical and technical support. The Consejería de Agricultura and Pesca y Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía funded this work through a project for the conservation of the Black Vulture in Cordoba province. All process of capture, transport, and release were carried out by the same team from the Andalusia Environmental Agency in agreement with the standards and procedures laid down by the Spanish legislation (R.D. 1082/2009).

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Correspondence to José Guerrero-Casado.

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Communicated by: Karol Zub

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Guerrero-Casado, J., Ruiz-Aizpurua, L. & S. Tortosa, F. The short-term effect of total predation exclusion on wild rabbit abundance in restocking plots. Acta Theriol 58, 415–418 (2013).

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