Feral rabbit populations in a peri-urban area: insights about invasion dynamics and potential management strategies

Davide Sogliani, Jacopo Cerri, Ramj Turetta, Massimo Crema, Michela Corsini, Emiliano Mori
2021 European Journal of Wildlife Research  
AbstractWhere introduced, the European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus is considered among the most destructive and invasive species. To date, research focused mostly on populations of wild rabbit, whereas little is known on feral domestic rabbit populations. In this work, we reported the establishment of two self-sustaining populations of feral rabbits in Italy. Direct observations were conducted to assess rabbit range expansion and population increase over time. We also evaluated prey-predator
more » ... teractions between rabbits and native red foxes Vulpes vulpes, by means of camera trapping and the analysis of fox scats. Moreover, we also assessed the social perception towards feral rabbits and the acceptability of various management options through the administration of a structured questionnaire to park visitors. Rabbit populations increased between 2018 and 2019, as well as the size of the invaded range. Rabbits are predated by foxes, but they seem to have adapted their activity rhythms to minimize the risk of predation, becoming diurnal. Park visitors loved rabbits and deemed them to be a positive presence in the park, which deserve to live there. Surgical sterilization of rabbits was the only management option which was partially supported. Feral domestic rabbits, albeit a neglected species in invasion biology, can become extremely successful invaders of urban green areas: in < 5 years, rabbits were able to colonize our study area and become a food resource for native predators and also an iconic species. These three points raise concerns about the potential impacts of invasive feral rabbits in European urban green areas and call for further research in this direction.
doi:10.1007/s10344-021-01505-2 fatcat:77joel64njdp5gl7i6ittnngne