Australia’s worst Christmas present not helping in reducing emissions

22 December 2014

On Christmas Day 1859 an acclimatisation society released 24 rabbits for hunting to help settlers feel at home. Australia’s worst Christmas present has now done untold damage to agriculture and the environment. Given our current commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, controlling these invasive pests could become ‘Santa’s little helper’ in reducing emissions.

A report released today by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IA CRC) in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) highlights how controlling plant-eating pests such as rabbits could be a cost-effective contribution to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets while also generating important benefits for agricultural productivity, regional communities and the environment.

“The Australian Government has committed to an emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 and storage of carbon in vegetation and soils is a big part of that plan,” said Andreas Glanznig, CEO of the IA CRC.

“Rabbits and other invasive herbivores have significant adverse impacts on the carbon storage potential of native plants and pastures so, in many cases, control programs focusing on these plant-eating pests will provide a more cost-effective and practical means of improving carbon storage than tree-planting. It is a consideration that is a missing link in the government’s direct action program,” he said.

Rabbits are likely to be the most useful for a control program, with research to further develop a biological control well underway through the Invasive Animals CRC.

Co-author of the report, NSW DPI research scientist, Dr Andrew Bengsen, said, “The use of biological controls for rabbits in the form of the myxoma and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) has had a cumulative economic benefit to agriculture worth an estimated $70 billion over the past 60 years. The current RHDV Boost project to introduce a new RHDV strain to suppress rabbit populations has shown promise in laboratory trials.

“The rural sector and the environment are facing challenges on all fronts from climate change, drought and pest animal invasions. Controlling these invasive animal populations is a cost-effective win for agriculture, the environment and regional communities,” said Dr Bengsen.

The full report by Dr Bengsen and Dr Tarnya Cox is available here and a corresponding article by Dr Bengsen is available at The Conversation.