Formation and maintenance of discrete wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population systems in arid Australia: Habitat heterogeneity and management implications

Wilson, John, Fuller, Susan, & Mather, Peter (2002) Formation and maintenance of discrete wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population systems in arid Australia: Habitat heterogeneity and management implications. Austral Ecology, 27(2), pp. 183-191.

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The wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) is a significant pest in arid and semi-arid Australia, where erratic rainfall and irregular pasture growth cause population sizes to oscillate, increasing virtually without limit and then crashing during drought conditions. Vacant habitat patches can be rapidly recolonized from nearby patches in high rainfall years. Using two adjoining rabbit population systems in arid and semi-arid south-west Queensland, this study evaluates patterns of population differentiation and proposes a mechanism that may lead to the formation of multiple rabbit population systems in the same locality. Using the combined haplotype frequency data from both a local and regional study, estimates of genetic exchange among local populations are considered in conjunction with ecological data to evaluate the significance of habitat attributes (and their spatial distribution) on the local distribution of rabbit populations, both within and between two adjacent population systems. A tentative model is proposed to explain the observed differences in population structure between the two adjoining systems. Under this model, population structure at specific locations is determined primarily by the availability of areas suitable for prolonged colonization and the quality of the intervening habitat that dictates the degree of isolation between locations and therefore the probability of recolonization following local extinctions. It is also suggested that the current rabbit distribution may be a function of the flexibility of behavioural responses in rabbits to the level of spatial heterogeneity of favourable habitats within the two regions.

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ID Code: 21980
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1046/j.1442-9993.2002.01169.x
ISSN: 1442-9985
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Deposited On: 17 Jun 2009 13:02
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2015 02:13

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