Environmental Conservation

Papers

Land-use changes as a critical factor for long-term wild rabbit conservation in the Iberian Peninsula

MIGUEL DELIBES-MATEOSa1a2 c1, MIGUEL ÁNGEL FARFÁNa1a3, JESÚS OLIVEROa1 and JUAN MARIO VARGASa1

a1 Departamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Málaga, 29071 Málaga, Spain

a2 Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, IREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ronda de Toledo s/n, 13071 Ciudad Real, Spain

a3 Biogea Consultores, C/Navarro Ledesma, 243, 29010 Málaga, Spain

SUMMARY

European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), a multifunctional keystone species in the Iberian Peninsula, have drastically declined over past decades. Rabbit decline has been frequently attributed to the arrival of two viral diseases. However, decline was apparently ongoing before the arrival of the diseases, as a consequence of habitat loss and fragmentation. In this paper, the effect on rabbit populations of land-use changes during recent decades in Andalusia (southern Spain) is analysed. Areas favourable for rabbits both at present and during the 1960s are identified, and the environmental and land-use factors that determine these areas established. In areas where the favourability for rabbits has changed during recent decades, main land use changes are assessed to identify possible factors explaining rabbit favourability in these areas. Areas favourable to rabbits are currently determined by factors similar to those during the 1960s; these areas have undergone geographic changes in recent decades, apparently as a consequence of land-use changes in Andalusia. The percentages of the variables that were positively associated with rabbit favourability in both models (current and 1960s) have declined in Andalusia as a whole, and in areas where rabbit favourability has decreased; hence environments suitable for rabbits have become impoverished. Conversely, in both models, environments suitable for rabbits increased in municipalities, where rabbit favourability also increased. The preservation of rabbit-friendly habitats should be a priority for the conservation of this key species in the western Mediterranean.

(Received September 17 2009)

(Accepted January 27 2010)

(Online publication August 12 2010)

Correspondence

c1 Correspondence: Dr Miguel Delibes-Mateos Tel: +34 926295450 Fax: +34 926295451 e-mail: mdelibesmateos@gmail.com