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Warren building by European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in relation to cover availability in a sandy area

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Abstract

Warrens of the wild European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus are of concern in the Iberian Peninsula as a way to recover rabbit populations. However, there are no studies on the selection of sites where rabbits build their warrens. Between 1995 and 1997, in addition to warren size (number of entrances), the vegetation characteristics and the occurrence of tree roots in the ground surface occupied by warren entrances in Mediterranean scrubland and pastureland habitats were recorded in a sandy area of the Doñana National Park. Pastureland warrens were about twice as large as warrens in Mediterranean scrubland, and 1.8–1.4 times larger in the first study year than in the other 2 years. Warrens in pastureland were built more between tree roots (13.3–17.8%) than those built in Mediterranean scrubland (0.7–1.8%). In Mediterranean scrubland, most of the ground surface occupied by warren entrances was under tall shrubs (79.7–87.9%), with some under short shrubs (4.5–7.4%). In pastureland, these figures were 2.0–3.8% for tall shrubs, and 17.2–19.8% for short shrubs. Warrens were built between tree roots significantly less than expected in the Mediterranean scrubland, and slightly more than expected in the pastureland. Whereas warren surface was occupied by short shrubs significantly less than expected in the Mediterranean scrubland, the opposite pattern occurred in the pastureland; however, in both habitats tall shrubs were significantly preferred. These results suggest that rabbits may seek protection against collapsing warrens by selecting sites with some supporting structures such as the roots of trees or shrubs. Scrubland vegetation (preferably tall shrubs) should be favoured for medium- and long-term habitat management of areas aimed at supporting large rabbit populations. Furthermore, in sandy areas, some kind of stable ground support and external protection should be provided when creating artificial warrens for rabbits.

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