Effects of predation and rabbit haemorrhagic disease on population dynamics of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in North Canterbury, New Zealand

The impact of predation and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) on population dynamics of rabbits, and the survival of juvenile rabbits, was investigated between July 1999 and March 2000 in North Canterbury, New Zealand. Rabbit abundance and pre- and post-emergent rabbit mortality were monitored on four sites, two of which were subject to predator control. RHD spread naturally through all sites from late November to early December. Rabbit densities declined on all sites, but after the RHD epidemic, declines were significantly greater where populations of predators had not been controlled. Survival of rabbit nestlings was lower where predators were not controlled. All post-emergent radio-collared rabbits died at sites where predators were not controlled, whereas 18% of those collared at sites where predators were controlled survived to maturity. In contrast to the results from previous studies, rabbits born at the start of the breeding season had very high rates of post-emergent mortality, as they appeared to be susceptible to the RHD virus later in the breeding season. The age at which juvenile rabbits become susceptible to RHD, the timing of RHD epidemics, and the abundance of predators are likely to be important in determining survival of juvenile rabbits. This study demonstrates that predation can reduce rabbit populations to low levels, but only in combination with other factors, in this case RHD.

Author Reddiex, B., Hickling, G. J., Norbury, G. L. and Frampton, C. M.
Year 2002
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 29
Number 6
Pages 627-633
Region NZ
Links https://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WR00088.htm