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

Rabbit warren distribution in relation to pasture communities in Mediterranean habitats: consequences for management of rabbit populations

G. Gea-Izquierdo A B , J. Muñoz-Igualada A and A. San Miguel-Ayanz A

A Departamento de Silvopascicultura, ETSI Montes, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain.

B Corresponding author. Email: guigeiz@inia.es

Wildlife Research 32(8) 723-731 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR04129
Submitted: 8 December 2004  Accepted: 22 September 2005   Published: 20 December 2005


Iberian wild rabbit numbers have decreased in the last decades. The management implemented to recover rabbit populations includes several techniques, one of the most common being the construction of artificial rabbit warrens. To optimally distribute the artificial warrens in the field it is essential to understand natural warren microhabitat. Few studies have investigated the relationship between rabbits and grassland communities. In this work we study the spatial distribution and characteristics of rabbit warrens as well as their relation to grasslands in Mediterranean woodlands of central Spain. During the summer of 2001, three 12.5-ha study plots, including the most representative grassland communities of the area, were selected. All rabbit warrens were surveyed and the active and total entrances, shrub cover, grassland community and warren cover type were characterised. A grassland community selection index was calculated and the warren spatial distribution analysed. Ploughed lands and shallow soils were unsuitable for warren establishment. The mean number of burrow entrances per warren was 5.8 (4.4 active), and warren clustering occurred only in ploughed plots. However, pasture communities composed of annual and perennial species growing on unploughed deep sandy soils were preferentially selected. Most warrens (81.4%) were dug under some kind of protection such as shrub roots and rocks. According to our results, when designing rabbit restocking programs that include the provision of artificial warrens, unploughed deep soils with plenty of shrubs and rocks should be preferentially selected to locate the artificial warrens, which should be spaced so there are ~10 warrens per hectare and ~5–6 burrow entrances per warren.


Angulo E. Villafuerte R. 2003 Modelling hunting strategies for the conservation of wild rabbit populations. Biological Conservation 115 291 301 DOI

Banks B. Hume I. D. Crowe O. 1999 Behavioural, morphological and dietary response of rabbits to predation risk from foxes. Oikos 85 247 256

Bell D. J. Webb N. J. 1991 Effects of climate on reproduction in the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Zoology 224 639 648

Branco M. Monnerot M. Ferrand N. Templeton A. R. 2002 Postglacial dispersal of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) on the Iberian Peninsula reconstructed from nested clade and mismatch analyses of mitochondrial DNA genetic variation. Evolution 56 792 803

Braun-Blanquet J. (1928). ‘Pflanzen Sociologie.’ 1st edn. (Springer-Verlag: Berlin.)

Calvete C. Estrada R. Angulo E. Cabezas-Ruiz S. 2004 Habitat factors related to wild rabbit conservation in an agricultural landscape. Landscape Ecology 19 531 542

CBD-Hábitat (2001). Fundación para la Conservación de la Biodiversidad y su Hábitat. Memoria final del Proyecto LIFE “Gestión del Monte mediterráneo para la conservación de Águila imperial, Buitre negro, Cigüeña negra y Lince ibérico 99/NAT/E-006336” de la Comisión Europea. Documentación interna no publicada. Madrid, España.

Clements F. E. (1916). ‘Plant Succession: An Analysis of the Development of Vegetation.’ (Carnegie Institution of Washington: Washington, DC.)

Cooke B. D. 1981 Rabbit control and the conservation of native mallee vegetation on roadsides in South Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 8 627 636

Copson G. R. Brothers N. P. Skira I. J. 1981 Distribution and abundance of the rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), at subantarctic Macquarie Island. Australian Wildlife Research 8 597 611 DOI

Cowan D. P. 1987 Group living in the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): mutual benefit or resource localization? Journal of Animal Ecology 56 779 795

Cowan D. P. 1991 The availability of burrows in relation to dispersal in the wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus. Symposia of the Zoological Society London 63 213 230

DGCN (2002). Censo diagnóstico de las poblaciones de Lince ibérico (Lynx pardinus Temminck) en España. Dirección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. Madrid.

Fa J. E. Sharples C. M. Bell D. J. 1999 Habitat correlates of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) distribution after the spread of RVHD in Cadiz Province, Spain. Journal of Zoology 249 83 96

Figueroa M. E. Davy A. J. 1991 Response of Mediterranean grassland species to changing rainfall. Journal of Ecology 79 925 941

Gibb J. A. Fitzgerald B. M. 1995 Dynamics of sparse rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), in Orongorongo Valley, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 22 115 121

Gleason H. A. 1926 The individualistic concept of the plant association. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 53 7 26

González L. M., and San Miguel A. (Coords) (2004). Manual de buenas practicas de gestión en fincas de monte mediterráneo de la Red Natura 2000. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. Madrid (España).

González L. M. Bustamante J. Hiraldo F. 1990 Factors influencing the present distribution of the Spanish imperial eagle Aquila adalbeti. Biological Conservation 51 311 319

Jaksic F. M. Soriguer R. C. 1981 Predation upon the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Mediterranean habitats of Chile and Spain: a comparative analysis. Journal of Animal Ecology 50 269 281

King D. R. Wheeler S. H. Robinson M. H. 1984 Daytime locations of European rabbits at three localities in south-western Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 11 89 92

Kolb H. H. 1985 The burrow structure of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.). Journal of Zoology 206 253 262

Kolb H. H. 1991 a Use of burrows and movements by wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) on an area of sand dunes. Journal of Applied Ecology 28 879 891

Kolb H. H. 1991 b Use of burrows and movements of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in an area of hill grazing and forestry. Journal of Applied Ecology 28 892 905

Krebs C. J. (1999). ‘Ecological Methodology.’ 2nd edn. (Addison Wesley Longman: Menlo Park, CA.)

Lombardi L. Fernández N. Moreno S. Villafuerte R. 2003 Habitat-related differences in rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) abundance, distribution, and activity. Journal of Mammalogy 8 26 36

Manly B. F. J., MacDonald L. L., and Thomas D. L. (1993). ‘Resource Selection by Animals: Statistical Desing and Analysis for Field Studies.’ (Chapman and Hall: London.)

Marañón T. 1986 Plant species richness and canopy effect in the savanna-like ‘dehesa’ of S.W. Spain. Ecologia Mediterranea XII 131 141

Moreno S. Villafuerte R. 1995 Traditional management of scrubland for the conservation of rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and their predators in Doñana National Park, Spain. Biological Conservation 73 81 85

Moreno S. Villafuerte R. Delibes M. 1996 Cover is safe during the day but dangerous at night: the use of vegetation by European wild rabbits. Canadian Journal of Zoology 74 1656 1660

Mutze G. J. 1991 Long-term effects of warren ripping for rabbit control in semi-arid South Australia. Australian Rangelands Journal 13 96 106

Myers K., Parer I., Wood D., and Cooke D. (1994). The rabbit in Australia. In ‘The European Rabbit: The History and Biology of a Succesful Colonizer’. (Eds H. V. Thompson and C. M. King.) pp. 108–157. (Oxford University Press: New York)

Mykytowycz R. Gambale S 1965 A study of the inter-warren activities and dispersal of wild rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), living in a 45-ac paddock. CSIRO Wildlife Research 10 111 123

Palomares F. 2001 a Comparison of three methods to estimate rabbit abundance in a Mediterranean environment. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29 578 585

Palomares F. 2001 b Vegetation structure and prey abundance requirements of the Iberian lynx: implications for the design of reserves and corridors. Journal of Applied Ecology 38 9 18

Palomares F. 2003 a Warren building by European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in relation to cover availability in a sandy area. Journal of Zoology 259 63 67 DOI

Palomares F. 2003 b The negative impact of heavy rains on the abundance of a Mediterranean population of European rabbits. Mammalian Biology 68 224 234 DOI

Palomares F. Delibes M. 1997 Predation upon European rabbits and their use of open and closed patches in Mediterranean habitats. Oikos 80 407 410

Palomares F. Delibes M. Revilla E. Calzada J. Fedriani J. M. 2001 Spatial ecology of Iberian lynx and abundance of European rabbits in southwestern Spain. Wildlife Monographs 65

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

Parer I. Libke J. A. 1985 Distribution of rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, warrens in relation to soil type. Australian Wildlife Research 12 387 405 DOI

Parer I. 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 DOI

Parer I. Fullagar P. J. Malafant K. W. 1987 The history and structure of a large warren of the rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, at Canberra, A.C.T. Australian Wildlife Research 14 505 513 DOI

Parker B. S. Hall L. S. Myers K. Fullagar P. J. 1976 The distribution of rabbit warrens at Mitchell, Queensland, in relation to soil and vegetation characteristics. Australian Wildlife Research 3 129 148 DOI

Pérez Corona M. E. Vázquez de Aldana B. R. García Criado B. García Ciudad A. 1998 Variations in nutritional quality and biomass production of semiarid grasslands. Journal of Range Management 51 570 576

Quinn G. P., and Keough M. J. (2002). ‘Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Rivas-Martínez S., and Penas A. (Coords) (2004). Atlas y Manual de los Hábitat de España. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Madrid.

Rivas-Martínez S. Fernández González F. Loidi J. Lousa M. Penas A. 2001 Syntaxonomical checklist of vascular plant communities of Spain and Portugal to association level. Itinera Geobotanica 14 5 341

Rogers P. M. Myers K. 1979 Ecology of the European wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), in Mediterranean habitats. Journal of Applied Ecology 16 691 703

Rogers P. M., Arthurs C. P., and Soriguer R. C. (1994). The rabbit in continental Europe. In ‘The European Rabbit: The History and Biology of a Succesful Colonizer’. (Eds H. V. Thompson and C. M. King.) pp. 22–63. (Oxford University Press: New York.)

San Miguel A. (2001). ‘Pastos Naturales Españoles.’ (Mundi-Prensa: Madrid.)

Soriguer R. C. 1981 Biología y dinámica de una población de conejos (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) en Andalucía occidental. Doñana Acta Vertebrata 8 1 379

Soriguer R. C., and Rogers P. M. (1981). The European wild rabbit in Mediterranean Spain. In ‘Proceedings of the World Lagomorph Conference’. (Eds K. Myers and C. D. MacInness.) pp. 600–613. (University of Guelph: Canada.)

Surridge A. K. Bell D. J. Hewitt G. M. 1999 From population structure to individual behaviour: genetic analysis of social structure in the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 68 57 71

Trout R. C. Langton S. Smith G. C. Haines-Young R. H. 2000 Factors affecting the abundance of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in England and Wales. Journal of Zoology 252 227 238 DOI

Vázquez de Aldana B. R. García Ciudad A. Pérez Corona M. E. García Criado B. 2000 Nutritional quality of semi-arid grassland in western Spain over a 10 year period: changes in chemical composition of grasses, legumes and forbs. Grass and Forage Science 55 209 220 DOI

Villafuerte R. Viñuela J. Blanco J. C. 1998 Extensive predator persecution caused by population crash in a game species: the case of red kites and rabbits in Spain. Biological Conservation 84 181 188 DOI

Virgós E. Cabezas-Díaz S. Malo A. Lozano J. López-Huertas D. 2003 Factors shaping European rabbbit abundance in continuous and fragmented populations of central Spain. Acta Theriologica 48 113 122

Webb N. J. 1993 Growth mortality in juvenile European wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Zoology 230 665 677

Wheeler S. H. King D. R. Robinson M. H. 1981 Habitat and warren utilization by the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.), as determined by radio-tracking. Australian Wildlife Research 8 581 588

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

Export Citation