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Keywords:

  • economic assessment;
  • evidence-based conservation;
  • hunting;
  • landscape restoration;
  • population management

Abstract

  1. The European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus was designated as a protected species in Spain and Portugal following sharp declines in many populations. The ongoing decline highlights the need to implement cost-effective management strategies for this staple prey and important small game species of Iberian Mediterranean ecosystems.
  2. Habitat management is one strategy in general use, though little is known about its true influence on rabbit populations. The main goal of this study was to assess the frequency of use and cost-effectiveness of habitat management techniques for European rabbit populations in the Iberian Peninsula. We conducted a thorough literature review and used this information to: (i) estimate the frequency of use of habitat management techniques; (ii) evaluate the relative and absolute effectiveness of habitat management; and (iii) assess the economic implications of its application.
  3. At least one habitat management technique was used on over 60% of hunting estates. The relative effectiveness (measured as the % population change before and after management) of habitat management techniques is high, although we found no relationship between high relative effectiveness and rabbit densities considered biologically and/or economically meaningful (e.g. densities able to support a breeding population of endangered predators or medium to high rabbit harvest yields). We did not find any clear relationship between the cost and the effectiveness of the habitat management techniques applied, as the most costly techniques were not the most successful ones.
  4. We conclude that rabbit management strategies in the Iberian Peninsula should include improved and upscaled protocols for habitat management, in order to mitigate threats and promote the recovery of rabbit populations.