Do polecat, stoat and weasel have an effect on the population of wild rabbits

The predator-prey interaction of polecat (Mustela putorius L.), stoat (Mustela erminea L.), and weasel (Mustela nivalis L.) with wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) was investigated in a 425000 ha region of the Munsterland (Fig. 1). On the basis of normally distributed hunting bags, data was available for a 38-year period from 1951/1952 until 1988/1989 (Fig. 2 and 3). Each bag-file was correlated with the hunting bag and that of the previous year of the opposite species as well as with 42 time-files of the monthly weather conditions. The 12 most important factors of influence were applied to a multiple regression analysis. The DURBIN-WATSON test for residuals allowed the adjustment of the bag-files and thereby arranged the preliminary step for a second regression with the ecologically tested chronologies (Tab. 1, Fig. 4). We regard the effects of the previous year population on the annual bag of the investigated species as decisive. Calculations show the influence of wild rabbits on the predators’ hunting bag, roughly estimated with a higher signification on the stoat. But results do not prove an effect of the predators on the population dynamics of rabbits – the values are located around zero. Weather and diseases are decisive for the oscillations of the rabbits’ bag. The prognostications with higher temperatures and plenty sunshine in October lead to the assumption that fleas and mosquitoes, responsible for the transmission of myxomatosis-viruses, have a longer activity and spread the disease late in autumn. Such circumstances are favourable to the polecat, the stoat and the weasel for preying upon handicapped rabbits. On the other hand an impairment of predators caused by high precipitation during their rutting time must be taken into consideration. [References: 25] 25

Author H. Nyenhuis
Year 1998
Secondary title Allgemeine Forst und Jagdzeitung
Volume 169
Number 6-Jul
Pages 104-109