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The reproductive productivity of the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in southern England on sites with different soils

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Abstract

Rabbit numbers are rising in most parts of Britain. Previous research in southern England has indicated that the rate of increase in spring due to breeding may vary according to soil type. This has serious implications for the likely rate of invasion into new habitats and for planning control operations. To investigate the hypothesis, post-mortem examinations of over 2500 rabbits from 14 sites on sand, chalk or clay were made. The length of the breeding season and percentage of females breeding differed significantly between soil types but litter size and intra-uterine mortality did not. The product of breeding season length and litter size results in an estimate of annual productivity per adult female. This was 22, 20, and 14 young born per female on clay, chalk, and sandy sites, respectively. Rabbits may invade new habitats, such as set-aside, at different rates according to soil type and therefore require different levels of control regime for population management.

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