Can habitat type predict the abundance of the European rabbits on oceanic islands?

Jonay Cubas, Jürgen Kluge, Víctor Bello-Rodríguez, Marcelino J. del Arco, Brian Cooke, Juana María González-Mancebo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a key prey species in Mediterranean ecosystems. However, it is also considered a pest on many oceanic islands, even though its true abundance and ecological effects on different island habitats are poorly understood. We present data on rabbit abundance for the best-preserved habitats of the Canary Islands, Spain (National Parks), including ecosystems differing in climate, topography, plant species richness and composition. Three methods of assessing rabbit abundance from faecal pellet density are compared to ascertain the best method to compare highly distinct habitats. The Cleaning method was used during spring, summer, autumn and winter to check whether there were differences in pellet degradation among habitats that could prevent comparisons between them. Rabbit abundance is determined by complex interactions among abiotic and biotic factor. Despite differences in climate conditions, the results obtained for rabbit density with fast methods correlated well with the slow Cleaning method. The Circular method was the most useful to work with for extensive sampling in different habitats. The best models for explaining rabbit density for all habitat types combined included tree cover, abiotic and topographic and climatic variables. Thus, factors influencing rabbit density vary depending on habitat type with Macaronesian laurel forests being the ecosystem least likely to be invaded by rabbits. The present study highlights that rabbits reach damaging densities for plant conservation in most areas on the Canary Islands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-105
Number of pages13
JournalCommunity Ecology
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

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