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

Home range, activity and habitat use of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in arid Australia: implications for control

K. E. Moseby A B , S. De Jong A , N. Munro A and A. Pieck A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Arid Recovery, PO Box 150, Roxby Downs, SA 5725, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: arid.recovery@wmc.com

Wildlife Research 32(4) 305-311 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR04013
Submitted: 12 February 2004  Accepted: 3 May 2005   Published: 5 July 2005

Abstract

The home range, activity and habitat use of wild European rabbits in northern South Australia were compared during winter and summer, and results used to suggest improvements to control techniques. Average home range was significantly smaller in summer (2.1 ha) than winter (4.2 ha) and there was no significant difference between the sexes. Rabbits used both dune and swale habitat but most warrens and more surface fixes were recorded in dune habitat in both seasons. Proportionally more surface fixes were found in swale habitat at night than during the day. The proportion of diurnal fixes on the surface was not significantly influenced by season, averaging 47% in winter and 62% in summer. Only 30% of radio-collared rabbits flushed by humans retreated to warrens. Comparable levels of diurnal surface activity in both winter and summer suggest that the death rate from fumigation or warren destruction may be similar in both seasons. High levels of diurnal surface activity suggest that warren fumigation may be ineffective unless rabbits can first be flushed to their warrens. The use of dogs to flush rabbits before fumigation or ripping should increase the efficacy of control. Activity data suggest that fumigation or ripping should be conducted between 0900 and 1600 hours in winter and 1100 and 1800 hours in summer when radio-collared rabbits were most likely to be down their warrens. Home-range data suggest that the effectiveness of poison baiting may be increased by placing bait lines closer together in summer and, although bait lines should be concentrated in dune habitat, some poison should also be placed in swale feeding areas remote from warrens. The most successful control method for radio-collared rabbits was fumigation with phosphine gas tablets, with 10 of 11 rabbits successfully killed. Pressure fumigation with chloropicrin was also successful but 1080 poisoning and warren destruction using shovels were all relatively unsuccessful.


Acknowledgments

This study was funded by Arid Recovery, a joint conservation initiative between WMC Resources, the Department for Environment SA, the University of Adelaide and the Friends of Arid Recovery. The authors thank the staff of Arid Recovery and members of the Friends of Arid Recovery who assisted with field work during the study, particularly Michelle Foate, Michelle Thums, Graeme Finlayson, Bree Galbraith, John Read, Steve White and Pete Paisley. Members of Green Corp assisted with digging up warrens. John Read and Brydie Hill provided useful comments on the manuscript. A special thanks to Ross Cunningham from the Australian National University for assistance with statistics. Ethics approval was obtained from the Wildlife Ethics Committee, permit no. 48/2001.


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