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An experimental study of translocation success and habitat improvement in wild rabbits


Sonia Cabezas. Current address: Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Sask. Canada S7N 5E2.


The translocation of wild animals is a strategy frequently used in the conservation and management of natural populations. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of translocation (population supplementation) and habitat improvement on the abundance of European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus. We used eight open plots with different habitat treatments: two with increased shelter, two with increased food, two with increased shelter and food and two without habitat treatment (control plots). We translocated wild rabbits during 3 consecutive years, each year in four of the eight plots, with the remaining plots serving as control for the translocation treatment. Rabbit abundance (translocated plus native rabbits) was calculated by means of pellet counts, and the results were evaluated mainly by generalized linear mixed models. We found that rabbit abundance was determined primarily by habitat improvement. Rabbits were more abundant in treated than in control plots, and most abundant in the plots where food availability was increased. This effect persisted throughout the year. Translocation also increased abundance, but this effect was the strongest where shelter and food had also been improved and declined and disappeared after breeding. These findings suggest that the habitat is an important factor for rabbit abundance, with food availability being the prime factor regulating densities. Moreover, translocations on their own are only effective in the short term in situations in which factors limiting population growth (e.g. disease and predation) have not been corrected. Translocations should be carried out in conjunction with improvements in release habitat as rabbit densities will depend on the maximum carrying capacity of the habitat.