Supplementary food reduces home ranges of European wild rabbits in an intensive agricultural landscape
Understanding use of space in free ranging populations that cause damage to agriculture can help in the design of measures aimed at reducing their impact. Food availability is known to determine use of space in terrestrial vertebrates so, providing alternative food sources during a specific time period may help the management of vertebrate pests by reducing their ranging behavior. We investigated space use by a crop damaging species, the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), in an intensively-managed agricultural landscape within its native range and evaluated the potential of food availability to restrict areas of rabbit activity. We determined the size of day-time home range (95% minimum convex polygon, MCP) and core area (50% MCP) of rabbits before and after providing additional food to one rabbit population, while an unsupplemented population served as a control. Rabbits in the study area had large home ranges in comparison with those previously reported in the literature, probably linked to the heterogeneous and unpredictable distribution of resources in intensively-managed Mediterranean agro-ecosystems. There was a general reduction in size of home ranges and core areas between the experimental phases, but we found evidence that additional feeding restricted the space use of rabbits. The wide-ranging behavior of rabbits documented in the present study might explain why even moderate rabbit densities can cause widespread damage to crops. These findings may facilitate the design of management tools to mitigate damage in agricultural areas where rabbits are considered an agricultural pest.
KeywordsFood availability Use of space Lagomorph Management Vertebrate pest Wildlife damage
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