Spatial interactions and habitat use of rabbits on pasture and implications for the spread of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in New South Wales

Successful control of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) populations in Australia has been achieved with the use of disease, initially myxomatosis and more recently rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). Predicting the effectiveness of disease as a control agent depends on understanding the spatial and social organisation of its host population. We radio-tracked 37 rabbits from adjacent burrow systems during May and June 1999. Surface-dwelling rabbits had larger home ranges and core areas and a higher proportion of vegetation cover in their ranges than warren-based rabbits. Interactions between rabbit dyads from the same warren showed greater range overlap than those involving rabbits from different warrens and those involving itinerants. Static interaction was high and positive for intra-warren dyads, but low and negative for inter-warren, warren–surface and surface–surface dyads. These patterns of range use and interaction behaviour create a hierarchical contact and transmission structure within the rabbit population that is likely to vary according to external factors such as population density, resource availability, season, climate and the environment. Quantifying these links between the environment and the transmission process is important to increase our understanding of RHD as an effective management tool for rabbit populations.

Author White, P. C. L., Newton-Cross, G., Gray, M., Ashford, R., White, C. and Saunders, G.
Year 2003
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 30
Number 1
Pages 49-58
Region NSW