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|1857-60||Primary releases of rabbits at Barwon Park (Vic), Anlaby Station (SA) and Point Lowly (SA) for hunting become established. Some farms abandoned as early as 1881.|
|Late 1940s||Rabbit population increased to 600 million due to a number of high rainfall years and because WWII reduced manpower for trapping and fence maintenance. 1|
|1950||World’s first vertebrate pest biocontrol – myxoma virus (MV) – released and kills 99.8% of infected rabbits.|
|1951-52||Rapid selection of genetically resistant rabbits leads to attenuated forms of myxomatosis.|
|1969||Rabbit flea species (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) approved for release to act as an improved vector to spread MV in areas low in mosquitoes.|
|1993||Spanish rabbit flea (Xenophsylla cunicularis) adapted for arid conditions approved for release and improves transmission of MV.|
|1995||Rabbit population about 300 million and climbing. 2|
|1995||Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV1) introduced and kills up to 98% of rabbits in arid areas.|
|2000s||Rabbits begin to develop resistance to RHDV1 infection. Increasing resistance results in increasing rabbit numbers being observed.|
|2009||Benign endemic rabbit calicivirus (RCV-A1) discovered and characterised.3 RCV-A1 confers partial protection to lethal RHDV1 infection and therefore impedes effective RHDV based biocontrol.|
|2009+||To counteract RCV-A1, new naturally occurring overseas RHDV1 strains are imported from Europe and Asia and evaluated as part of the RHD Boost project whose aim is to increase effectiveness of RHDV1 based biocontrol.|
|2012||Invasive Animals CRC develops 20-year rabbit biocontrol pipeline strategy and strategic rabbit biocontrol research program to boost RHDV1 effectiveness, assess feasibility of new potential rabbit biocontrol candidates, and increased capabilities to promote regional integrated rabbit control.|
|2014||Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) arrives in Australia and spreads to all rabbit populations across Australia within 2 years. Reduces rabbit populations by 60% on average and up to 80% in some populations, including a proportion of rabbits with immunity to RHDV.|
|2017||First nationally coordinated release of new RHDV1 strain (RHDV1-K5) in 20 years based on former Invasive Animals CRC program. Delivers a 34% national average knockdown at release sites but is outcompeted by RHDV2 at landscape scale. 4|
|2016-18||RHDV2 becomes the dominant strain in the Australian landscape. 5|
|2017||Centre for Invasive Species Solutions formed as successor to IA CRC and continues to advance rabbit research, including the assessment of RHDV2 as a biocontrol agent.|
|2018||Discovered that rabbits that survive MV have 10% poorer survival when subsequently infected with RHDV1. The interaction between biocontrols is providing additional benefit. 6|
|2019||Intestinal Eimeria rabbit parasites assessed as an additional control agent but are found to be unsuitable as virulent Eimeria parasites are already widespread across Australia. 7|
|1National Museum of Australia (2021). 2Ward (2011), 3Strive et al (2009). 4Cox et al (2019). 5Ramsey et al (2020). 6Barnett et al (2018), 7Peacock et al (under review)
Source: Adapted from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (2011).
See Appendix 1 for description of each biocontrol technique mentioned above
Myxoma virus: Trialled by the CSIRO in the late 1930’s and 40s. It was released into the feral rabbit population in the 1950s and spread predominately by fleas and mosquitoes. Within months it knocked over 90% of some rabbit populations but became less effective over time due to developing genetic resistance in the rabbits. Today it affects an estimated 40-50% of the rabbit population.
RHDV: Trialled by the CSIRO in the early 1990s and released into the feral rabbit population in 1996. It initially knocked down 90% of the feral rabbit population but was less effective in cooler climates. Immunity and again resistance have become an issue.
RHDV2: Found in Australia in May 2015, RHDV2 is a variant of RHDV that was not released but has been detected in Europe and now Australia and may cause deaths to European rabbits. If RHDV2 is highly virulent it could potentially benefit rabbit biocontrol efforts within Australia3.
The authors of these documents have taken care to validate the accuracy of the information at the time of writing. This information has been prepared with care but it is provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, to the extent permitted by law. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions the authors work for or those who funded the creation of this document.
Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, 2015. Key facts about rabbit biocontrol in Australia. Factsheet. PestSmart website. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/key-facts-about-rabbit-biocontrol-in-australia accessed 27-09-2023