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A large-scale assessment of European rabbit damage to agriculture in Spain

Delibes-Mateos, M and Farfán, MA and Rouco, C and Olivero, J and Márquez, AL and Fa, John and Vargas, JM and Villafuerte, R (2017) A large-scale assessment of European rabbit damage to agriculture in Spain. Pest Management Science, 74 (1). pp. 111-119. ISSN 1526-498X

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Numerous small and medium-sized mammal pests cause widespread and economically significant damage to crops all over the globe. However, most research on pest species has focused on accounts of the level of damage. There are fewer studies concentrating on the description of crop damage caused by pests at large geographical scales, or on analysing the ecological and anthropogenic factors correlated with these observed patterns. We investigated the relationship between agricultural damage by the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and environmental and anthropogenic variables throughout Spain. RESULTS: Rabbit damage was mainly concentrated within the central-southern regions of Spain. We found that rabbit damage has increased significantly between the early 2000s and 2013. Greater losses were typical of those areas where farming dominated and natural vegetation was scarce, where main railways and highways were present, and where environmental conditions were generally favourable for rabbit populations to proliferate. CONCLUSIONS: From our analysis we suggest that roads and railway lines act as potential corridors along which rabbits can spread. The recent increase in Spain of such infrastructure may explain the rise in rabbit damage reported in this study. Our approach is valuable as a method for assessing drivers of wildlife pest damage at large spatial scales, and can be used to propose methods to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

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