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Conserv Biol. 2006 Aug;20(4):1232-41.

Modeling the effect of population dynamics on the impact of rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

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Centro de Investigaciń Agroalimentaria de Aragón, Apdo. 727, 50058 Zaragoza, Spain.


The European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a staple prey species in Mediterranean ecosystems. The arrival and subsequent spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease throughout southwestern Europe, however has caused a decline in rabbit numbers, leading to considerable efforts to enhance wild rabbit populations, especially through habitat management. Because rabbit population dynamics depend on habitat suitability and changes in habitat structure and composition subsequent to habitat management, I evaluated the effects of population dynamics on the long-term impact of rabbit hemorrhagic disease on rabbit populations. I used an age-structured model with varying degrees of population productivity and turnover and different habitat carrying capacities, and I assumed the existence of a unique, highly pathogenic virus. My results suggest that disease impact may be highly dependent on habitat carrying capacity and rabbit population dynamics, and the model provided some insight into the current abundance of wild rabbits in different locations in southwestern Europe. The highest disease impact was estimated for populations located in habitats with low to medium carrying capacity In contrast, disease impact was lower in high-density populations in habitats with high carrying capacity, corresponding to a lower mean age of rabbit infection and a resulting lower mortality from rabbit hemorrhagic disease. The outcomes of the model suggest that management strategies to help rabbit populations recover should be based on improving habitats to their maximum carrying capacity and increasing rabbit population productivity. In contrast, the use of strategies based on temporary increases in rabbit density, including vaccination campaigns, translocations, and temporal habitat improvements at medium carrying capacities, may increase disease impact, resulting in short-term decreases in rabbit population density.

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