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Rabbits cause damage to the environment by: - Overgrazing on native and/or sown shrubs and plants - Increasing and spreading the amount of invasive weeds which overtake crops Even low numbers of rabbits can have a devastating effect on tree-planting programs or intensive horticultural operations. Often costs can be recouped by added livestock or crop production, or minimised by being shared among neighbouring properties using a coordinated approach1. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology Project Report No. The Mediterranean Basin is a global hotspot of biodiversity. The return on investment in rabbit control is greater when high-value commodities or resources are protected from damage. It causes severe damage to the natural environment and to agriculture. In Australia, the most significant predators of European rabbits are the: In Australia rabbits are affected by internal parasites such as: There are two types of diseases present in Australia that are deadly to rabbits including Myxoma virus (MV) and rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus RHDV (RHDV, formerly known as calicivirus). Rabbits are an invasive species that has caused immense ecological devastation to the continent of Australia for over 150 years. White rabbits are rarely seen in the wild. Food and other resources of the wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.). (1967) ) quoted in Williams K, Parer, Coman B, Burley J & Braysher M (1995), Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO, Pickard (1995), in Williams K, Parer, Coman B, Burley J & Braysher M, Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO. During and immediately after the breeding season 60% of young male and female rabbits disperse from the breeding warren seeking unused burrows and safe above ground harbour. The hare is larger, has longer black-tipped ears, longer hind legs, move differently and can run faster. This study shows that European rabbit warrens have a positive influence on lizard density and diversity, and confirms the role of rabbits as ecosystem engineers. In central New South Wales, a paddock experiment found that as rabbit density increased, pasture productivity decreased6. 917–931 in: Fauna of Australia, eds. Rabbits prefer deep, well-drained soils (sands and light loams) which are often found on the most productive agricultural land. Rabbits move from areas of high rabbit density to areas of lower density. Caughley, G.C. But in Australia (and many small islands where it has been introduced), the rabbit, virtually unchecked by local predators, decimates plants, affects soil composition, and changes entire ecosystems. The virus affects rabbits that haven’t previously been exposed to it, damaging the animal’s liver and spleen and eventually causing its death. Australian Wildlife Research 4: 171–205. Saunders G, Kay B, Mutze G and Choquenot D (2002). The European hare is the only animal in Australia that looks similar to the rabbit. In 1859, a farmer introduced 24 grey rabbits to remind him of home. Rabbits are a commercial resource that provides employment and income, mainly in rural areas9. Taking no action against rabbits is likely to result in higher costs in terms of lost production and ongoing damage5. Sheep that were not competing with rabbits had a 7.23 kg greater average liveweight after three years, compared with sheep that were competing with a high-density population of 72 rabbits per hectare6,8. In only 3 years of high rabbit densities, the cover of subterranean clover has been shown to reduce from 75 per cent to 20%. Rabbits are mostly active from late afternoon to the early morning. Feral rabbit control is complicated because of welfare and harvesting issues, and because both native and introduced predators feed on feral rabbits in many parts of Australia. The cost per rabbit also varies depending on the value of the affected commodity (eg crop type). In Australia, European rabbits have major impacts on agricultural productivity and the environment. ACIL Economics and Policy Pty Ltd (1996). FactSheet. It is believed that climate change is going to affect the current territory of at least ⅔ of all species of rabbit by 2100. NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI, 2007). Before the release of RHDV, rabbit-induced production losses in the Australian wool industry were about $130 million per year11. The impact of rabbits on the Australian environment has been disastrous and currently there are at least 304 Australian threatened species that may be adversely affected by competition and land degradation by rabbits. With declining populations of many small Australian mammal species over the past 200 years, it is possible that rabbits have partially filled an ecological niche3. (Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra). A rabbit's fur colour is typically grey-brown with a pale belly. If this fails rabbits will sprint for the warren or cover with the white underside of the tail showing as a visual warning to other rabbits. The cost of tree planting programs is often increased because of the need to erect tree guards. The history of the rabbit in Australia demonstrates that people can be really silly. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/economic-and-environmental-impacts-of-rabbits-in-australia accessed 16-01-2121. Sloane Cook and King Pty Ltd., (1988) 'The Economic Impact of Pasture Weeds, Pests & Diseases on the Australian Wool Industry' Australian Wool Corporation. They have adapted to Australia's diverse environments, establishing themselves in farmland, deserts, grasslands and wet coastal plains, and causing havoc to native flora and fauna. This virus, a benign parasite of the Brazilian forest rabbit, was highly lethal for European rabbits. Figure 2: Browsing damage caused by rabbits. quoted in Williams K, Parer, Coman B, Burley J & Braysher M (1995), Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO, Parker, B. S. and Bults, H.G. Currently, rabbits inhabit around 4 million square kilometres of Australia, stretching from southeast NSW to the WA wheatbelt. Sociality, time and space in a sparse population of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Effective rabbit management on a property near Colac has allowed an increase from 1.75 DSE (dry sheep equivalent) to 7.75 DSE over a 5-year period. Rabbits prefer to live in areas with short grasses, including natural grasslands and rural pastures. Moving north: Most species of rabbit will have to move their territory northward. Journal of Zoology, London 229: 581–607. Rabbits also cause extensive losses to forestry and are a potential threat to new tree plantations designed for carbon offset or sequestration benefits1,15. In 1952, the production increase following the spread of myxomatosis was worth an additional $68 million and in 1953 the increase in Australia's wool clip was estimated at 30 million kgs. Douglas, G.W. Consequently, competition and land degradation caused by rabbits has been listed as a key threatening process to threatened species conservation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). It causes severe damage to the natural environment and to agriculture. Vermin and Noxious Weeds Destruction Board Bulletin No. Why? Although these trades have suffered as a result of fewer rabbits post-RHDV, the benefits of rabbit control to agriculture and the environment far outweigh these losses17. The Story of Pests on the Land in Australia. In 2013/14 the national impact of rabbits through lost agricultural production was estimated at $216 million per annum. Some viral strains also affect hares and cottontail rabbits. Cooke BD, Chudleigh P, Simpson S and Saunders G (2011). Since the European rabbits are an invasive species, and are extremely disruptive to the local environment, finding a solution to rein in and control their populations is imperative. Image: Brian Cooke. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or coney is a species of rabbit native to southwestern Europe (including Portugal, Spain and western France) and to northwest Africa (including Morocco and Algeria). Rabbits require protein-rich, fresh growth to stimulate breeding. A single pair of rabbits can increase to 184 individuals within 18 months. Canberra. Rabbits can be differentiated from hares by a size differences. It takes less than one rabbit per hectare to prevent the successful regeneration of many native trees and shrubs16, which are vital for biodiversity and farm productivity. This information has been prepared with care but it is provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, to the extent permitted by law. Read more about the classification of invasive animals in Victoria. They All Ran Wild. Everywhere the European Rabbit travels in Australia, it brings destruction to existing ecosystems. A rabbit grazes more closely to the ground than domestic stock weakening perennial grasses during summer, potentially eliminating them from established pastures. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/economic-and-environmental-impacts-of-rabbits-in-australia, Decision Support Systems for rabbit management, Trapping of rabbits using padded-jaw traps, Overview of poison baiting for rabbit control, Ground baiting of rabbits with sodium fluoroacetate (1080), Aerial baiting of rabbits with sodium fluroacetate (1080), Bait delivery of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV1) K5 strain, Overview of rabbit warren and harbour destruction, Rabbit warren destruction using explosives, How to report rabbit disease and dead rabbits, Key facts about rabbit biocontrol in Australia, Frequently asked questions about RHDV1 K5, Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), How to improve and enhance my management program, Who to connect with prior to taking action, Public land manager (e.g. July 1980. (1969). Note the 45°‘secateur-like’ cuts through the twigs. Rabbits usually become infected after being bitten by an insect vector, typically mosquitos, but also European and Spanish rabbit fleas that have been introduced to Australia. Angus & Robertson : Sydney. Over three-quarters of the State is inhabited by feral European rabbits. Williams, K., Parer, I., Coman, B., Burley, J., and Braysher, M. (1995). The invasion of the rabbit was the fastest of any colonising mammal anywhere in the world. Because of the high fecundity of rabbits and the damage likely to be caused by subsequent generations7, on-ground management actions — in conjunction with biocontrol — are expected to provide substantial benefits to primary production and biodiversity. It is known as an invasive species because it has been introduced to countries on all continents with the exception of Antarctica, and has caused many problems within the environment and ecosystems. Early introductions of European rabbits into Australia were domestic breeds that were unable to survive in the wild. Mating can recur immediately after giving birth. Just 7 years later, 14,253 rabbits were shot on Barwon Park. The department recommends integrated pest management using all available control measures implemented in a coordinated manner at a landscape scale. While much of the country boasts diverse … These diseases were brought to Australia as biological controls for rabbits and they now occur naturally throughout much of the rabbits range. trapper, shooter), Government agency employee (local, state, national), Aquatic environments (including irrigation), overgrazing native and sown pastures, leading to loss of plant biodiversity and reduced crop yields, competing with native animals and domestic livestock for food and shelter, increasing grazing pressure and lowering the land’s carrying capacity, building warrens, causing land degradation and erosion, preventing or inhibiting the regeneration of native shrubs and trees by grazing, acting as a food source for introduced predators, which can lead to increased lamb losses and disease prevalence, and a decrease in small mammal diversity. D.W. Walton and B.J. Rabbits have 16 teeth in the upper jaw and 12 in the lower, including 2 pairs of upper incisors that grow continuously. 1B. Australia’s temperate conditions — general lack of seasons and little cold — and huge swaths of natural low vegetation make for an ideal rabbit home, so much so that the perennially-breeding creatures destroyed two million acres of floral lands in Victoria before they were even spotted in another state. (1989) Leporidae. It was estimated that reduced rabbit populations as a result of RHDV would increase agricultural production by $600 million annually, including about $300 million for the wool sector, $150 million for cattle, $80 million for cropping and $70 million for sheep meat17. (1993). Powered by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, View our best practice community engagement information hub ‘Community Invasives Action‘ to enhance community involvement in your invasive species management programs. European wild rabbit in Australia ... Western Australia. The farmed rabbit industry now dominates the supply of rabbits for domestic and overseas consumption, leading to a steady decline in the commercial harvest of wild rabbits9. In the second month the protected area supported 45 sheep whereas the unprotected area could support only 7. Their gestation period is 28 to 30 days and they have litters of between 4 and 6 kittens, which are born blind, deaf and almost naked in short nesting burrows or elaborate above ground nests. The warren is the key to the success of rabbits in Australia. Analysis of Vertebrate Populations. PestSmart website. Long-term effects of warren ripping for rabbit control in semi-arid South Australia. Although biological controls (myxoma virus and rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, or RHDV) have provided ongoing rabbit control for over 60 years with little cost10, they have not eliminated the problem4. Despite common opinion rabbits do not readily dig new warrens preferring to find an unused warren to excavate. 6. The impact of rabbits (in combination with kangaroos) in rangeland national parks have resulted in native plants and animals being in poor condition with little chance of regeneration. The European rabbit can be identified by long floppy ears, short tail, and long jumping gait. European rabbits hurt Australia's native species and crops. The impact of rabbits on agriculture and conservation will continue to grow, unless continuous effort is put into long-term, integrated rabbit control. Journal of Animal Ecology 56: 779–795, Cooke, B.D. There are two types of diseases present in Australia that are deadly to rabbits including Myxoma virus (MV) and rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus RHDV (RHDV, formerly known as calicivirus). Rabbits can have considerable impacts on farm productivity and native ecosystems, leading to financial loss and environmental devastation1. Rabbits also cause damage to grain crops and have significantly reduced crop yields in some areas. Proceedings of a Symposium Held at Rusden C.A.E. The rate of rabbit invasion varied from 10 to 15 kilometres per year in wet forested country to over 100 kilometres per year in the rangelands. (1975) ) quoted in Williams K, Parer, Coman B, Burley J & Braysher M (1995), Managing Vertebrate Pests: Rabbits Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO. Feral rabbit control is complicated because of welfare and harvesting issues, and because both native and introduced predators feed on feral rabbits in many parts of Australia. Another rabbit virus, known as VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) and RCV (Rabbit Calicivirus) has also broken out in many countries. Each year, the approximate overall cost caused by rabbits was estimated to be $206 million. Sheep that were not competing with rabbits also produced 21% more  greasy wool per head per year8. For a wool producer, the cost of grazing competition between sheep and rabbits is a major cost typically measured in terms of dry sheep equivalents (DSEs). Rabbits are always searching for new areas to establish. Williams, C.K., (1991). Read more about European rabbit management. (1977). The role of the rabbit as a keystone species in Iberian ecosystems The European wild rabbit plays a major role both directly and indirectly in ecosystem services in south-west Europe and is also of economic importance as a game species (Fa et al., 1999; Angulo & Villafuerte, 2004). However, they are not found in Southern South America, West Indies, Madagascar, and the majority of the islands Southeast of Asia. They have caused a lot of damages on crops and also destroyed and killed young trees and plants. The economic impacts of vertebrate pests in Australia. As they journey onward, the rabbit grazes the shrubs and grasses … Rabbit warrens are typically larger, more complex and dense on deeper soils. These include deserts, tropical and subtropical regions, mediterranean woodlands, temperate forests and grasslands, montane lands and tundra. Low-density rabbit populations can cause significant damage to native plants and pastures, suggesting there might be no ‘safe’ level of rabbit density16 (Figure 2). The overall loss caused by rabbits to agriculture and horticulture in Australia was recently estimated to be about $206 million per year11. It not only provides protection from predators but also protection from environmental extremes. Richardson, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Vol. Rabbit warrens provide refuge for some native species such as echidnas and large reptiles3. Excessive grazing pressure by rabbits contributes to loss of land through soil erosion. Vere DT, Jones RE and Saunders GR (2004). The European Rabbit is a species of rabbit native to southern Europe. Figure 4: Workers process rabbit carcasses at a farmed rabbit processing facility. (1977). Competition and land degradation by rabbits is listed as a key threatening process in Australia4. Williams K, Parer I, Coman B, Burley J and Braysher M (1995). Fallen timber or logs, rocks, dense thickets of native scrub or woody weeds and heaps of debris create ideal shelter for rabbits. Early last year, vets in Sydney, Australia urged owners of pet rabbits to vaccinate their animals against Rabbit Calicivirus (The Australian 2014), also known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV). Not only do these animals affect the native flora, but they have a huge effect on the populations of other native animals. Movements and longevity in the rabbit. At the time, the man wrote: "The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting." They procreate with uncontrollable velocity, consume cropland like locusts, and contribute significantly to soil erosion. 12. Mortality rates generally range from 70 to 100 percent. Brunner, H., Stevens P, L., Backholer J. R. (1980) Introduced Mammals in Victoria. There are several variables in determining the direct impact of rabbits on primary production, such as the distribution and density of rabbits, and the type, level and value of production. This will inevitably end up having unforeseeable effects on local ecosystems as rabbits and other animals migrate toward cooler climates. The community also suffers indirectly, as they might pay higher prices for rabbit-affected commodities (such as wool)2 or bear the loss of ecosystem services at the catchment scale3. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a serious environmental and agricultural pest throughout Australia. Cowan DP (1987) Aspects of the social organisation of the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Williamson, Chapman & Hall (1996) Biological Invasions. Rabbits have many negative impacts on Australia's soil and agricultural lands. Due to selective grazing the rabbit has changed ecosystem composition radically. Rabbits can severely affect the regeneration or recruitment of critical vegetation communities. Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA, 2008). and received funding from the Australian Government to undertake this website upgrade. Australia contains eight of the fourteen ecosystem that exist. They have long ears and large slightly protruding eyes placed to the sides of the head that gives them panoramic vision. In the absence of warrens rabbits can also exist above ground where there is abundant surface harbour. In tropical regions rabbit distribution is fragmented. European rabbits can be found all over Europe, northwestern Africa, South America, New Zealand, United States, Australia and are just the main areas they reside in. In Australia rabbits are affected by internal parasites such as: coccidia; intestinal and stomach worms; dog tapeworms; species of liver fluke. (1988). Stodart, E. and Parer, I. Rabbits have long hind legs and short front legs. Many of these costs cannot be accurately estimated in a financial sense. The feral European rabbit is one of the most widely distributed and abundant mammals in Australia. The European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, a keystone species of Mediterranean ecosystems, is the target of several recovery and management plans throughout the Iberian Peninsula.The majority of these plans are limited in time by budget constraints and lack postintervention monitoring of population trends. Wild dog, dingo-dog hybrids (feral or wild), classification of invasive animals in Victoria. During dispersal rabbits are vulnerable to many hazards such as predation and environmental extremes. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Adelaide. Variable virulence of the different virus strains and increased genetic resistance by rabbits to the diseases over time has lessened their effectiveness and it is why efforts continue to be made to identify more virulent strains of RHD in particular. Image: Australian Antarctic Division. Figure 1: Damage to a canola crop caused by rabbit grazing.Image: from Wheeler et al (2002)12. Black or ginger rabbits represent less than 2 per cent of the rabbit population. biosecurity officer, ranger), Management professional (e.g. By 1879, the South Australian and Victorian infestations had merged covering the area from Spencer Gulf to north-eastern Victoria. However, they can also spread weeds and permanently damage native seedlings in the process2,16. By the 1920s, rabbits had colonised most of the southern half of Australia and were present in extremely high numbers. Their spread may have been enhanced through the emergence of strong crossbreeds. European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were introduced to Australia in the 18th century with the First Fleet and eventually became widespread. This double pair of upper teeth are found only in rabbits and hares and cause a very distinctive 45 degree angle cut on browsed vegetation. Rabbits have high rates of dispersal that is generally broken down into 2 dispersal events. Parer, I. and Libke, J.A. This was only 22 years after their introduction to Australia and only 6 years after they were declared pest animals in South Australia. Rabbits generally obtain water from green vegetation but will travel to drink if they can't obtain enough water from their diet. In Australia rabbits inhabit a wide range of vegetation types. 'Managing vertebrate pests: rabbits'. They can graze plants to ground level, preventing regeneration and limiting seedling establishment1. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is an introduced species, which was first brought to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 as domesticated livestock. The territory or home range of rabbits varies from approximately 0.2 to 2ha depending on: Rabbits require a high quality diet containing less than 40% fibre with 10 to 12% protein for maintenance and 14% protein for reproduction. 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