Mammalian Biology

, Volume 78, Issue 3, pp 187–192 | Cite as

Motorway verges: Paradise for prey species? A case study with the European rabbit

  • Aimara PlanilloEmail author
  • Juan E. Malo
Original Investigation


Roads have many effects on the mammal populations of their surroundings. Prey species are thought to establish dense populations in road verges due to a predation release effect, which arise as a side-effect of roadside avoidance by predators and/or predator roadkill. A species that has been suggested to benefit from predation release and attain high densities near roads is the European rabbit, a keystone species in Mediterranean ecosystems. We monitored rabbit relative abundance at three distances from a motorway (50, 450 and 850 m) during a 6 month period, as well as hunting and predator pressures, in a suitable area for rabbits. The lowest rabbit abundance was found next to the motorway (6.76 ± 8.87 pellets/m2 per month) and the highest abundance at an intermediate distance (17.65 ± 23.11 pellets/m2 per month). Hunting and carnivore pressures were highest at the sampling transect located farthest from the infrastructure. Thus, variability in rabbit abundance did not match the predation release effect found close to the motorway, and some sort of road avoidance or other process must underlie the observed abundance pattern. We advocate for a formal measurement of prey populations response to roads prior to any generalization as, in the case of rabbit, the response to roads and the potential cascading effects on other species may depend on landscape characteristics.


Oryctolagus cuniculus Carnivore pressure Hunting pressure Predation release effect Road ecology 


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Copyright information

© Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Terrestrial Ecology Group (TEG), Ecology DepartmentUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

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