Does wild rabbit population size affect connectivity?

R. Machado, P. Santos


Wild rabbit is a relevant species in the Iberian Peninsula due to its ecological  and economic roles. Conservationists and game managers therefore have a shared interest in assuring the existence of resilient and sustainable populations. Although management principles and guidelines are  mostly known and understood, often the results are not as good as expected. Local abundance can vary significantly even in short periods, while the colonisation of adjacent territories is uncommon, probably due to the territorial behaviour of the species. Aware that the foundation of nuclei requires interaction among individuals, we hypothesised that rabbit abundance plays a significant part in population connectivity. In order to find out whether the population size affects nuclei connectivity, we conducted a graph theory-based connectivity analysis. The results confirm that connectivity grows with rabbit abundance, but only to a certain degree, and there is a spatial separation of the nuclei regardless of the population size. These outcomes suggest that a comprehensive wild rabbit population increment plan should address both the abundance and spatial distribution, but should not aim at achieving a continuous distribution of wild rabbit with constant or similar abundance. Regarding specific management actions, we argue that in restocking operations new nuclei should be located within dispersal range from the existing ones to promote inter-nuclei connectivity, but not too close, as the nuclei segregation tendency is likely to persist due to the species’ territoriality.


Oryctolagus cuniculus; graph theory; population recovery; connectivity metrics, game management

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