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 http://dx.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.


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. 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

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. Hilton-Taylor C. 2007 Improvements to the Red List Index. PLoS ONE 2 1 e140 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000140

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 doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.12.025

Calvete C. Pelayo E. Sampietro J. 2006 Habitat factors related to wild rabbit population trends after the initial impact of rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Wildlife Research 33 467 474 doi:10.1071/WR05107

Carvalho J. C. 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. Villafuerte R. 2007 Rabbits as a keystone species in southern Europe. Biological Conservation 137 149 156

Delibes-Mateos M. Ferreras P. 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 doi:10.1007/s10531-007-9272-5

Delibes-Mateos M. Ferreras P. Villafuerte R. 2009 European rabbit population trends and associated factors: a review of the situation in the Iberian Peninsula. Mammal Review 39 124 140 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2009.00140.x

Fernández N. 2005 Spatial patterns in European rabbit abundance after a population collapse. Landscape Ecology 20 897 910 doi:10.1007/s10980-004-3976-7

Ferreira C. 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 doi:10.1007/s10344-009-0257-4

Gonçalves H. Alves P. C. 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 doi:10.1071/WR00048

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 doi:10.1071/WR02034

Lees A. C. 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 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2008.00116.x

Moreno S. Beltrán J. F. Cotilla I. Kuffner B. 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. Cooper H. D. 2006 Towards the global monitoring of biodiversity change. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21 123 129

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. Lucientes J. 1995 Incidence of viral hemorrhagic disease in wild rabbit populations in Spain. Mammalia 59 651 660 doi:10.1515/mamm.1995.59.4.651

Virgós E. Cabezas-Dias S. Lozano J. 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. 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

Williams D. Acevedo P. Gortázar C. Escudero M. A. Labarta J. L. Villafuerte R. 2007 Hunting for answers: rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population trends in northeastern Spain. European Journal of Wildlife Research 53 19 28 doi:10.1007/s10344-006-0056-0

Export Citation Cited By (9)