Rabbits – ecosystem invaders

Rabbits and hares are the most widely spread herbivores in the Kosciuszko National Park, and are associated with less dense foliage, more bare ground and higher weed cover, according to a recent study published in Conservation Science and Practice.

Rabbits were detected in 85% of study sites and over a wider range of elevations than any other native or invasive herbivores – being found at levels above where kangaroos and wallabies graze.

The report by Renee Hartley et.al. notes that rabbits are ecosystem invaders due to their propensity for breeding and dispersal, a diverse diet, and their ability to adapt to harsh conditions. They can change the structure of plant communities before their selective grazing is noticed and trigger a shift from grasslands to shrublands. Entire grassland ecosystems may be lost.

The authors conclude that rabbits should be controlled as a priority, especially in areas of high conservation significance. They also encourage integrated rabbit and feral predator control to ensure rabbits don’t sustain feral predators (promoting predator persistence) and to avoid any risk of prey-switching.

For more information, see ‘Exotic herbivores dominate Australian high-elevation grasslands’ by Hartley et.al (2021) in Conservation Science and Practice.

Relative contributions from herbivores. (Hartley et.al. 2021)

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