Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Towards ecologically sound rabbit management: impacts of critical threshold densities and migration on abundance - VC0227

The wild rabbit is the major economic wildlife pest species in the UK. A range of studies are underway in the VC02 and VC04 assessment units to assist MAFF in meeting its obligation under the 1954 Pest Act to ensure that suitable methods of rabbit control are available. A key focus of this research is the development of a decision support system (VC0220) to provide advisors with a reliable tool for predicting the costs of rabbit damage in key agricultural settings and enhancing the robustness of the advice they give on management strategies. At the core of this system is a rabbit population model based on productivity and mortality rates observed across a range of habitat types. The model provides, in general, good predictions of rabbit numbers in particular settings given different levels of control. However, there is significant scope for enhancing the reliability of the model by incorporating a more complete view of rabbit population biology. There are two key areas for such improvement. Firstly, current research suggests that there may be critical densities below which rabbit population growth is impaired. This concept may explain why local rabbit populations often appear to irrupt suddenly from low levels, where limited problems are caused, to those which lead to severe agricultural losses. Secondly, the current model is based on a closed system and thus does not allow for movement of rabbits between populations. Thus there may be discrepancies between the model’s predictions and the real world that stem from variation in rates of immigration from unmanaged populations into areas from which rabbits have been removed. This project seeks to address these two gaps in our knowledge, revise the model accordingly and thereby enhance the reliability of the decision support system as a guidance tool.
1. Establish whether there are critical threshold rabbit densities below which recruitment is impaired (30/09/03)
2. Measure the effects of immigration on the rates of recovery of rabbit populations after control (30/09/03).
3. Incorporate the population level effects of critical threshold densities and migration into a refined rabbit management decision-support system (31/3/04).
Project Documents
• Final Report : Towards ecologically sound rabbit management: impacts of critical threshold densities and migration on abundance   (758k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2001

To: 2002

Cost: £95,000
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Central Science Laboratory
Peer Review              
Pest and Weed Control              
Pest Control              
Plants and Animals              
Wildlife Management              
Fields of Study
Wildlife Management