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Grain sowing aimed at wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus L. enhancement in Mediterranean environments

Guil, F., Fernández-Olalla, M., Martínez-Jáuregui, M., Moreno-Opo, R., Agudín, S., San Miguel-Ayanz, A.
Journal for nature conservation 2014 v.22 no.6 pp. 552-558
Mediterranean climate, Oryctolagus cuniculus, food availability, habitat conservation, habitats, hunters, indigenous species, islands, pastures, predators, rabbits, sowing, threatened species, Spain
Although habitat management practices focussed on the enhancement of hunting and protection of threatened species are common, the scientific validation of such practices is scarce. The wild European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus L., a hunted and threatened species in its native range, is at the same time a key species for the preservation of threatened Mediterranean predators. Cereal sowing is one of the most common practices to augment the food supply of rabbits, and it is used not only by hunters but also by conservationists. At present, limited scientific information is available regarding the effectiveness of cereal sowing. To evaluate its effectiveness, we analysed data on sowing trials conducted in 125 plots, located in 14 private estates throughout central Spain, most of them with low density populations. Brush was cleared from 44 of these plots prior to sowing. Our results indicated that rabbits preferentially selected sown areas over control (unsown) areas. This selection increased in plots that represented suitable habitats for rabbits, such as pasturelands, as well as when thicket islands and natural or artificial shelters were available within the sown plots. Local enhancement of rabbit populations was also observed. These positive results were also obtained regardless of the initial habitat conditions, not only in the treatment plots but also in the surrounding area. Our recommendations can be broadly applied for managing rabbit-dependent threatened species.