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

Harbouring pests: rabbit warrens in agricultural landscapes

I. C. Barrio A B D , R. Villafuerte C and F. S. Tortosa A

A Department of Zoology, University of Cordoba, Campus de Rabanales E-14071, Córdoba, Spain.

B Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (CSIC), Avenida Regimiento de Galicia s/n, PO Box 64, Jaca E-22700, Huesca, Spain.

C Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (CSIC–UCLM–JCCM), Ronda de Toledo s/n, E-13071 Ciudad Real, Spain.

D Corresponding author. Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, CW405 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton AB, T6G 2E9, Canada. Email: b42cabai@uco.es

Wildlife Research 38(8) 756-761 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR11051
Submitted: 17 March 2011  Accepted: 6 November 2011   Published: 9 December 2011

Abstract

Context: Warrens are central to rabbit biology and available warren space can set a limit to the number of rabbits living in an area. Therefore, quantifying and analysing the distribution of rabbit warrens is a key step towards the management of the species in agricultural lands where it causes significant damage to crops.

Aims: The present study investigates the distribution and spatial pattern of wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) warrens in an intensively managed agricultural landscape within the rabbit’s native range in semiarid southern Spain, where rabbits constitute an emerging pest problem.

Methods: All natural rabbit warrens within two sites were mapped, and information on their size, use and protection was recorded. The effects of environmental variables (e.g. habitat features and distances to key resources) in determining warren occurrence were evaluated using binomial generalised linear models (GLM).

Key results: The main variable explaining warren occurrence was the distance to the nearest neighbouring warren. Habitat variables and the distances to key resources played only a secondary role, and were mainly related to frequent ploughing linked to agricultural practices that prevent warren construction.

Conclusions: Habitat instability resulting from agricultural practices (i.e. frequent ploughing and intensive human disturbance) promotes warren construction on stable grounds only and partly explains the clumped spatial pattern found. However, warren occurrence in intensively managed agricultural areas seems to be more constrained by the proximity of neighbouring warrens that would facilitate rabbit recolonisation from patches nearby. Despite becoming increasingly scarce as a result of agricultural intensification, these unploughed remnants may act as safe islands for digging warrens.

Implications: The management of unploughed patches and the connectivity among them in semiarid agroecosystems of southern Spain is therefore of utmost importance to the management of rabbits as an agricultural pest.

Additional keywords: burrow, management, Oryctolagus cuniculus, pest, ploughing.


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