Wildlife research highlights need for long-term rabbit biocontrol strategy

17 February 2016

The importance of a long term rabbit biocontrol strategy is clear with a recent study showing a number of Australian threatened small mammals making a comeback in the South Australian desert due to ongoing rabbit management, including biocontrol.

The research, which was published in the journal Conservation Biology and led by Reece Pedler, analysed small mammal data collected over a 45 year period by the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources with support from the South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board and the Australian Government.
The results found three threatened mammals have staged dramatic recoveries in the past 20 years, predominately due to the release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in 1995. RHDV reduced rabbit numbers, with associated reductions in their main predators, cats and foxes, leading to native mammals having less competition for food and less predation pressure.   
Andreas Glanznig, CEO of the Invasive Animals CRC is now looking ahead to the future. In consultation with rabbit experts from around Australia, a 20 year rabbit biocontrol strategy has been developed which will complement and improve existing biocontrol agents and investigate the suitability of new biocontrol agents.  
“It has been twenty years since the release of the RHDV, and it is excellent to see research highlighting that a long-term drop in rabbit numbers results in an extensive recovery of threatened wildlife species such as the Plains Mouse and Dusky Hopping-mouse.
“However, despite the benefits of RHDV, there has been some recovery of rabbit populations and they are still a major environmental and agricultural problem even at these lower levels. Unfortunately for us, this means the problem is not going away and we have more work to do,” Mr Glanznig said.
A major aim of the strategy will be to have biocontrol agents (such as new RHDV strains and other novel agents) ready for release to keep rabbit impacts at a minimum and population levels stable or in decline. The strategy will support our integrated approach to rabbit management through traditional methods of control such as warren ripping, fumigation and poisons.

The impact of rabbit management strategies over the past 75 years (source: Invasive Animals CRC)
The impact of rabbit management strategies over the past 75 years (source: Invasive Animals CRC)

  For more information about the Invasive Animals CRC current research in this area please visit – https://www.pestsmart.org.au/pest-animal-species/european-rabbit/


Media contact:

Ian McDonald, Communications Manager, Invasive Animals CRC
P: 02 6201 2890 | M: 0429 985 643 | E: ian.mcdonald@invasiveanimals.com

The Invasive Animals CRC is supported by the Australian Government’s Business Cooperative Research Centres Programme.

Note to journalists: this research was supported by the SA Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board and fully funded by the Australian Government, using data supplied by the South Australian Government. It was published in the journal Conservation Biology and can be downloaded here.

Link: Rabbit biocontrol in Australia: key facts