Diverse genetics indicates diverse origins

Australia’s feral rabbits fall into three primary genetic lineages, with three other highly localised ones, according to a recently published research paper. The results suggest the rabbits originated from different introductions across the country, rather than a single site.

The research, assisted in part by funding from the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia, examined the genetics of rabbits from 18 populations across Australia. It found major genetic groupings in WA, southern Victoria, and central NSW, with strongly differentiated local clusters in SA and NSW.

Historic reports cite repeated attempts to introduce rabbits at sites across Australia (with over 200 separate attempts in the mid 1800s). The genetic data indicates that a number of those attempts ended up being a nucleus for the regional expansion of rabbit populations.

Better understanding the genetic makeup of wild rabbit populations may help to explain geographic variations in resistance to biological controls, and provide a framework for planning control programs.

For more information, see the 2018 Biological Invasions paper by Iannella et al, ‘Genetic perspectives on the historical introduction of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) to Australia’.

Map of rabbit genetic clusters. Pie charts illustrate different genetic clusters. Red diamonds are sites of known attempts to introduce rabbits.

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