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Short-Term Vegetation and Soil Responses to Mechanical Destruction of Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) Warrens in an Australian Box Woodland

Authors

  • David J. Eldridge,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Natural Resources, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052 NSW, Australia.
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  • Carly Costantinides,

    1. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052 NSW, Australia.
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  • Adam Vine

    1. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052 NSW, Australia.
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Address correspondence to D. J. Eldridge, email d.eldridge@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

We studied the impact of disturbance by rabbits on plants and soils along a gradient out from the center of ripped rabbit warrens in an Australian semiarid woodland. Five years after the warrens were ripped, the impact of rabbits was still apparent. The cover of bare soil declined, and the cryptogam cover increased with increasing distance from the warren mound. However, litter cover, plant cover, and plant diversity remained unchanged with increasing distance from the mounds. Differences in plant composition were apparent with increasing distance from the mounds, with three species, Schismus barbatus, Salsola kali var. kali, and Chenopodium melanocarpum dominating the mounds, whereas the perennial grass Austrostipa scabra dominated the nonwarren control surfaces. Two species, Crassula sieberana and S. barbatus, dominated the active soil seed bank on ripped warrens. The mounds had the lowest number of species in the soil seed bank, whereas the warren edge microsite had the greatest. Ripped and unripped warrens differed substantially in their complement of species, and ripped warrens contained an order of magnitude fewer active warren entrances compared with unripped warrens. Ripped warrens also had significantly more plant cover than unripped warrens. Taken together, our results reinforce the view that rabbits have a destructive effect on surface soils and vegetation in semiarid woodlands and suggest that restoration of the original woodland vegetation after warren ripping is likely to be a slow and ongoing process.

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