Farming for pests? Local and landscape-scale effects of grassland management on rabbit densities

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Petrovan , Silviu O. ; Barrio , Isabel C. ; Ward , Alastair I. ; Wheeler , Philip M. (2010)

International audience; In recent decades in the UK, there has been an increasing trend in numbers of the European wild rabbit, a significant agricultural pest typically associated with grassland habitats. However, the relationship between rabbit abundance and grassland management, in particular grazing, has not been sufficiently explained. We studied rabbit densities in seven pasture-dominated sites in north-east England between autumn and spring in two consecutive years, and used generalised linear mixed models and generalised additive models to explore relationships between habitat and management variables and rabbit abundance at local (field) and landscape scales. At the local scale high rabbit densities were significantly associated with small fields and the very short, homogeneous swards created by intensive sheep grazing during autumn and winter. At the landscape scale, high rabbit numbers were associated with sites with most field margins and a predator removal policy. Our results indicate that landscape management may play a central role in explaining rabbit abundance and distribution in grasslands. We suggest that current pasture management may create favourable conditions for high rabbit densities, and consequently boost numbers of this significant pest species.
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