CSIRO Publishing blank image blank image blank image blank imageBooksblank image blank image blank image blank imageJournalsblank image blank image blank image blank imageAbout Usblank image blank image blank image blank imageShopping Cartblank image blank image blank image You are here: Journals > The Rangeland Journal   
The Rangeland Journal
  Rangeland Ecology & Management
blank image Search
blank image blank image
blank image
  Advanced Search

Journal Home
About the Journal
Editorial Structure
Current Issue
Just Accepted
All Issues
Special Issues
Research Fronts
Sample Issue
Call for Papers
For Authors
General Information
Submit Article
Author Instructions
Open Access
For Referees
Referee Guidelines
Review an Article
Annual Referee Index
For Advertisers
For Subscribers
Subscription Prices
Customer Service
Print Publication Dates

blue arrow e-Alerts
blank image
Subscribe to our Email Alert or RSS feeds for the latest journal papers.

red arrow Connect with CP
blank image
facebook twitter LinkedIn


Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 36(3)

A rapid survey method for estimating population density of European rabbits living in native vegetation

Greg Mutze A E , Brian Cooke B , Mark Lethbridge C and Scott Jennings D

A Biosecurity SA, PIRSA, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia.
B University of Canberra, Institute of Applied Ecology, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.
C School of the Environment, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
D Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
E Corresponding author. Email: greg.mutze@sa.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(3) 239-247 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13117
Submitted: 28 November 2013  Accepted: 7 April 2014   Published: 20 May 2014

PDF (632 KB) $25
 Export Citation

European rabbits are severe environmental pests in Australia but reporting of density-damage relationships has been hindered by a lack of simple methods to estimate the density of rabbit populations in native vegetation. A methodology for quantifying rabbit densities suitable for use in sparse populations of rabbits in conjunction with surveys of the condition of native vegetation is proposed. Dung pellets were counted in 11 629 regularly-spaced quadrats of 0.1 m2 in semiarid, coastal and cool-temperate areas of southern Australia. Mean pellet counts in latrines and the relationship between dung counts outside of latrines and the proportion of quadrats falling on latrines were quantified. This allowed density of dung pellets to be estimated by using a correction factor for latrines instead of attempting to count all pellets within quadrats that included parts of latrines. Rabbit density was calculated from pellet density based on mean pellet size, pellet breakdown rate and estimates of rabbits’ dry matter intake and digestive efficiency. Results were validated against estimates of rabbit density from long-term studies using a combination of spotlight transect counts and burrow entrance counts. The proposed methodology allows estimates of rabbit density in native vegetation to be obtained from just a few hours work and can be used in conjunction with surveys of the condition of native vegetation to quantify rabbit impacts. This methodology is seen as particularly useful in providing a tool to allow rabbit densities to be estimated and then compared with the thresholds, determined separately, at which damage occurs for given ecosystems.


Allcock, K. G., and Hik, D. S. (2004). Survival, growth and escape from herbivory are determined by habitat and herbivore species for three Australian woodland plants. Oecologia 138, 231–241.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Ballinger, A., and Morgan, D. G. (2002). Validating two methods for monitoring population size of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Wildlife Research 29, 431–437.
CrossRef |

Bird, P., Mutze, G., Peacock, D., and Jennings, S. (2012). Damage caused by low-density exotic herbivore populations: the impact of introduced European rabbits on marsupial herbivores and Allocasuarina and Bursaria seedling survival in Australian coastal shrubland. Biological Invasions 14, 743–755.
CrossRef |

Calvete, C., Pelayo, E., and Sampietro, J. (2006). Habitat factors related to wild rabbit population trends after the initial impact of rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Wildlife Research 33, 467–474.
CrossRef |

Caughley, G. (1977). ‘Analysis of Vertebrate Populations.’ (Blackburn Press: Caldwell, NJ, USA.)

Cooke, B. D. (2012). Rabbits: manageable environmental pests or participants in new Australian ecosystems? Wildlife Research 39, 279–289.
CrossRef |

Cooke, B. D., McPhee, S., and Hart, Q. (2008). ‘Rabbits: a threat to conservation and natural resource management: how to assess a rabbit problem and take action.’ (Bureau of Rural Sciences: Canberra, ACT.) Available at: www.rabbitfreeaustralia.org.au/BRS_Rabbit_Booklet_lr.pdf (accessed 11 September 2013).

Cooke, B. D., Jones, R., and Gong, W. (2010). An economic decision model of wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, control to conserve Australian native vegetation. Wildlife Research 37, 558–565.
CrossRef |

Crawley, M. J. (1993). ‘GLIM for Ecologists.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.)

DEWHA (2008). ‘Threat abatement plan for competition and land degradation by rabbits.’ (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts: Canberra, ACT.) Available at: www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/pubs/tap-rabbit-report.pdf (accessed 11 September 2013).

Fernandez-de-Simon, J., Díaz-Ruiz, F., Cirilli, F., Sánchez Tortosa, F., Villafuerte, R., Delibes-Mateos, M., and Ferreras, P. (2011). Towards a standardized index of European rabbit abundance in Iberian Mediterranean habitats. European Journal of Wildlife Research 57, 1091–1100.
CrossRef |

Fullagar, P. J. (1981). Methods for studying the behaviour of rabbits in a 33-ha enclosure at Canberra and under natural conditions at Calindary, NSW. In: ‘Proceedings of the World Lagomorph Conference’. Guelph, Ontario 1979. (Eds K. Myers and C. D. MacInnes.) pp. 240–254. (IUCN: Gland, Switzerland.)

Gong, W., Sinden, J., Braysher, M., and Jones, R. (2009). ‘The Economic Impacts of Vertebrate Pests in Australia.’ (Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre: Canberra, ACT.)

Landsberg, J., and Stol, J. (1996). Spatial distribution of sheep, feral goats and kangaroos in woody rangeland paddocks. The Rangeland Journal 18, 270–291.
CrossRef |

Lange, R. T., and Graham, C. R. (1983). Rabbits and the failure of regeneration in Australian arid zone Acacia. Australian Journal of Ecology 8, 377–381.
CrossRef |

Latham, A. D. M., Nugent, G., and Warburton, B. (2012). Evaluation of camera traps for monitoring European rabbits before and after control operations in Otago, New Zealand. Wildlife Research 39, 621–628.
CrossRef |

Manly, B. (1997). ‘Randomization, Bootstrap and Monte Carlo Methods in Biology.’ (CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, USA.)

Mitchell, B., and Balogh, S. (2007). ‘Monitoring Techniques for Vertebrate Pests – Rabbits.’ (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries: Orange, NSW.)

Mutze, G., Bird, P., Peacock, D., Jennings, S., and Cooke, B. D. (2002). Emerging epidemiological patterns in rabbit haemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis and their effects on rabbit populations in South Australia. Wildlife Research 29, 577–590.
CrossRef |

Mutze, G., Kovaliski, J., Butler, K., Capucci, L., and McPhee, S. (2010). The effect of rabbit population control programmes on the impact of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in south-eastern Australia. Journal of Applied Ecology 47, 1137–1146.
CrossRef |

Parer, I. (1977). The population ecology of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), in a Mediterranean-type climate in New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research 4, 171–205.
CrossRef |

Parer, I. (1982). Census methods: European rabbit (Australia). In: ‘CRC Handbook of Census Methods for Terrestrial Vertebrates’. (Ed. D. E. Davis.) pp. 136–138. (CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, USA.)

Parer, I., and Wood, D. H. (1986). Further observations of the use of warren entrances as an index of the number of rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus. Australian Wildlife Research 13, 331–332.
CrossRef |

Short, J. (1985). The functional response of kangaroos, sheep and rabbits in an arid grazing system. Journal of Applied Ecology 22, 435–447.
CrossRef |

Sneddon, I. A. (1991). Latrine use by the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Mammalogy 72, 769–775.
CrossRef |

Williams, K., Parer, I., Coman, B., Burley, J., and Braysher, M. (1995). ‘Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits.’ (Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra, ACT.)

Wood, D. H. (1988). Estimating rabbit density by counting dung pellets. Australian Wildlife Research 15, 665–667.
CrossRef |

Subscriber Login


Legal & Privacy | Contact Us | Help


© CSIRO 1996-2015