About Rabbits

The Rabbit Problem

The European wild rabbit is an introduced pest throughout much of Australia, affecting natural environments, primary production, and even townships and infrastructure. They are Australia’s worst vertebrate pest, adversely affecting over 300 threatened native species, changing landscapes, and causing losses of over $200 million a year to agricultural production.

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Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits were introduced to Australia in the 1800s by European settlers. Free from diseases and facing relatively few predators in a modified environment, the wild populations grew rapidly. By 1910 rabbits had spread across two thirds of Australia with devastating impact.

  • History – introductions to Australia
  • Distribution & Abundance – population dynamics

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Rabbit Biology

Understanding the biology of rabbits helps to identify opportunities for their control. They are social, territorial animals and able to breed prolifically. A single doe can produce 50-60 offspring per year.

  • Taxonomy – the rabbit family tree
  • Physiology – unique features of rabbits
  • Behaviour – social structures
  • Breeding - reproduction
  • Rabbit Diseases & Predation – health and survival risks, including viruses

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Rabbit Environmental Harm

European wild rabbits are a risk to 322 threatened native species in Australia – double the number at risk from cats and foxes combined. The species at risk due to rabbits include plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, and even fish and amphibians. A national Threat Abatement Plan has been developed for rabbits.

  • Native Plants – selective feeding
  • Competition – for food and burrows
  • Ecological Disruption – flow-on effects
  • Promoting Predators – feeding feral cats and foxes
  • Soil Disturbance & Weeds – erosion, weeds and carbon sequestration

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Economic Loss

Competition for feed from rabbits reduces the productivity of grazing lands, but their consumption of green-feed and environmental impacts have implications for nearly every form of primary industry. They can also damage infrastructure and harm peri-urban properties. The ‘cost’ of rabbits includes the losses in production they cause, the repair of infrastructure, the costs of their control, and the social costs of confronting rabbits.

  • Production & Profit – livestock, crops, horticulture, viticulture, forestry and revegetation
  • Infrastructure & Peri-urban Costs – from roads and railways to back yard gardens
  • Social Costs – affecting peri-urban and rural communities

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Rabbit warren - safety for rabbits and an invitation for weeds and erosion. (Image: W Meyer)

Key Messages

European wild rabbits are an introduced pest, harming the natural environment and primary production.

* Even at low densities rabbits can prevent plant recruitment.
* Rabbits compete with native animals for feed and burrows.
* Rabbits help sustain feral predators.
* Rabbits invite weeds and soil erosion.
* Rabbits compete with livestock and degrade pastures.
* Rabbits impact vineyards, horticulture and revegetation.
* Rabbits undermine infrastructure and invade gardens.

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Rabbit grazing leaves a graze-line on shrubs. Rabbits consume palatable plants below that height, including seedlings. (Image: P Day)