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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 37(3)

The usefulness of field data and hunting statistics in the assessment of wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) conservation status in Portugal

Catarina Ferreira A B D, Joana Paupério A, Paulo Célio Alves A C

A CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal.
B Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (CSIC-UCLM-JCCLM), Ronda de Toledo, s/n, 13071 Ciudad Real, España.
C Departamento de Biologia da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto, 4050 Porto, Portugal.
D Corresponding author. Email: catferreira@gmail.com
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Context. The wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a keystone species from the Iberian Peninsula that has suffered a strong decline in Spain during the past decades. Data on historical and current population trends in Portugal are virtually non-existent.

Aims. To investigate changes in rabbit abundance at the national level so as to inform conservation status assessments, and to evaluate the usefulness of hunting bags as a rabbit abundance index.

Methods. Field surveys based on latrine counts in linear transects were performed in two periods (1995 and 2002) to assess variation in population abundance. Hunting bags were also analysed for the same period to verify whether these data showed the same trends. General trends of rabbit abundance were estimated using TRIM software.

Key results. Field data revealed that most of the sampling units across Portugal have low abundances, despite the observation of local high-density spots. A population reduction of 27% was estimated. Although some fluctuations were observed in hunting bags, global results obtained from these data suggest a slightly increasing trend in rabbit abundance.

Conclusions. A discrepancy between field data and hunting statistics was observed. Because hunting bags may be influenced by sporadic management operations undertaken by hunters and the lack of systematic procedures in data collection, we believe that hunting statistics are not representative of real changes in rabbit populations. Thus, observed reduction in rabbit abundance estimated by field data, combined with the high initial morbidity due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) after 1988 and the potential for continuing decline in population trends because of other factors, led to an inference of a reduction of >30% in rabbit abundance in Portugal during the past decade.

Implications. Taking into account the estimated reduction, the species’ biology and socioeconomic implications, wild rabbit in Portugal was listed in 2005 in the Near Threatened category under IUCN criteria. Because of its ecological and economic importance, this classification prompted the definition of several conservation actions aimed at the recovery of the species in Portugal.

Keywords: conservation status, hunting statistics, IUCN Red List, Portugal, wild rabbit.

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