Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Seasonal variation in the reproductive activity of the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) in a Mediterranean ecosystem

H. Gonçalves, P. C. Alves and A. Rocha

Wildlife Research 29(2) 165 - 173
Published: 14 June 2002


To establish a successful strategy for managing wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) populations it is essential to have a clear understanding of reproductive biology. In Portugal, previous work suggested a seasonal pattern of reproductive activity for this species. In this study we present additional information on the seasonal reproductive activity of the wild rabbit as well as data on the influence that environmental factors have on the onset and length of the breeding season.

The study was carried out in Pancas, southern Portugal, from October 1997 to September 1998. Rabbits were collected every two months and post mortem analyses were performed. In the males, circulating concentration of testosterone, gonadal weight, daily sperm production, diameter of the seminiferous tubules and the thickness of epithelial cells were measured. The numbers of corpora lutea, embryos and placental scars were recorded in the females. To assess abundance and quality of food, samples of herbaceous vegetation were collected and analysed for water, fibre and crude protein content.

The reproductive season extended from November to June with a peak in March/April, with both sexes showing an annual cycle of gonadal development and subsequent regression. All analysed females were pregnant and/or lactating between March and June. The mean litter size estimated by counting the embryos in the uteri was 3.90 ± 0.50. Daily sperm production was highest between November and April. Testicular function was strongly correlated with environmental temperature and the water content of the vegetation, and both testicular and ovarian development were correlated with vegetation biomass.


© CSIRO 2002

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