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

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 and 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

Wildlife Research 37(3) 223-229 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR09137
Submitted: 14 October 2009  Accepted: 26 March 2010   Published: 18 May 2010


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.

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


Funding was provided by the Project ‘Documentos Estruturantes da Conservação da Natureza e da Biodiversidade, ICN 2001–2004. Linha de Acção 3, Determinação da abundância relativa das populações de coelho-bravo (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) em Portugal Continental’, of the EU Operational Environmental Program. The authors thank all collaborators for their support during the field work and the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture for providing hunting data. Thanks go to Rafael Villafuerte and Miguel Delibes-Mateos for helpful comments and suggestions on a previous version of this manuscript, and to Arco van Strien for support with TRIM analysis.


Anonymous, (1989). Doença hemorrágica vírica do Coelho em Portugal. Revista Portuguesa de Ciências Veterinárias 84, 57–58.

Blanco J. C. , and Villafuerte R. (1993). Factores ecológicos que influyen sobre las poblaciones de conejo. Efectos de la enfermedad hemorrágica vírica. Unpublished report. TRAGSA, Madrid, Spain.

Blanco-Aguiar, J. A. , Gozález-Jara, P. , Ferrero, M. E. , Sánchez-Barbudo, I. , Virgós, E. , Villafuerte, R. , and Dávila, J. A. (2008). Assessment of game restocking contributions to anthropogenic hybridization: the case of the Iberian red-legged partridge. Animal Conservation 11, 535–545.
CrossRef |

Butchart, S. H. M. , Akcakaya, R. H. , Chanson, J. , Baillie, J. E. M. , Collen, B. , Quader, S. , Turner, W. R. , Amin, R. , Stuart, S. N. , and Hilton-Taylor, C. (2007). Improvements to the Red List Index. PLoS ONE 2(1), e140.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Cabral M. J. , Almeida J. , Almeida P. R. , Dellinger T. , Ferrand de Almeida N. , Oliveira M. E. , Palmeirim J. M. , Queiroz A. I. , Rogado L. , and Santos-Reis M. (2005). ‘Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal.’ (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza: Lisboa, Portugal.)

Calvete, C. (2006). The use of immunization programs in wild populations: modelling effectiveness of vaccination campaigns against rabbit hemorrhagic disease. Biological Conservation 130, 290–300.
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 |

Carvalho, J. C. , and Gomes, P. (2004). Influence of herbaceous cover, shelter and land cover structure on wild rabbit abundance in NW Portugal. Acta Theriologica 49, 63–74.

Delibes-Mateos, M. , Redpath, S. M. , Angulo, A. , Ferreras, P. , and Villafuerte, R. (2007). Rabbits as a keystone species in southern Europe. Biological Conservation 137, 149–156.
CrossRef |

Delibes-Mateos, M. , Ferreras, P. , and Villafuerte, R. (2008). Rabbit populations and game management: the situation after 15 years of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in central-southern Spain. Biodiversity and Conservation 17, 559–574.
CrossRef |

Delibes-Mateos, M. , Ferreras, P. , and Villafuerte, R. (2009). European rabbit population trends and associated factors: a review of the situation in the Iberian Peninsula. Mammal Review 39, 124–140.
CrossRef |

Fernández, N. (2005). Spatial patterns in European rabbit abundance after a population collapse. Landscape Ecology 20, 897–910.
CrossRef |

Ferreira, C. , and Alves, P. C. (2009). Influence of habitat management on the abundance and diet of wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) populations in Mediterranean ecosystems. European Journal of Wildlife Research 55, 487–496.
CrossRef |

Gonçalves, H. , Alves, P. C. , and Rocha, A. (2002). Seasonal variation in the reproductive activity of the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) in a Mediterranean ecosystem. Wildlife Research 29, 165–173.
CrossRef |

Kitson, J. C. (2004). Harvest rate of sooty shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) by Rakiura Maori: a potential tool to monitor population trends? Wildlife Research 31, 319–325.
CrossRef |

Lees, A. C. , and Bell, D. J. (2008). A conservation paradox for the 21st century: the European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, an invasive alien and an endangered native species. Mammal Review 38, 304–320.
CrossRef |

Moreno, S. , Beltrán, J. F. , Cotilla, I. , Kuffner, B. , and Laffite, R. , et al. (2007). Long-term decline of the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south-western Spain. Wildlife Research 34, 652–658.

Pannekoek J. , and van Strien A. (2005). ‘TRIM 3 Manual: Trends and Indices for Monitoring data.’ (Statistics: Heerlen, Netherlands.)

Pereira, H. M. , and Cooper, H. D. (2006). Towards the global monitoring of biodiversity change. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21, 123–129.
CrossRef |

Piorno V. (2006). Gestión cinegética y conservación del conejo de monte. Ph.D. Thesis, Vigo University, Spain.

SCBD (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity) (2003). ‘Handbook of the Convention on Biological Diversity.’ (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Montreal.)

SNPRCN (Serviço Nacional de Parques, Reservas e Conservação da Natureza) (1990). ‘Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. Vol. I – Mamíferos, Aves, Répteis e Anfíbios.’ (Lisboa: Portugal.)

Villafuerte, R. , Calvete, C. , Blanco, J. C. , and Lucientes, J. (1995). Incidence of viral hemorrhagic disease in wild rabbit populations in Spain. Mammalia 59, 651–660.
CrossRef |

Virgós, E. , Cabezas-Dias, S. , Lozano, J. , and López-Huertas, D. (2003). Factors shaping European rabbit abundance in continuous and fragmented populations of central Spain. Acta Theriologica 48, 113–122.

Virgós, E. , Cabezas-Dias, S. , and Lozano, J. (2007). Is the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) a threatened species in Spain? Sociological constraints in the conservation of species. Biodiversity and Conservation 16, 3489–3504.
CrossRef |

Williams, D. , Acevedo, P. , Gortázar, C. , Escudero, M. A. , Labarta, J. L. , and Villafuerte, R. (2007). Hunting for answers: rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population trends in northeastern Spain. European Journal of Wildlife Research 53, 19–28.
CrossRef |

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (9)