In this section
The Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia is currently supporting:
In the interests of ensuring as wide a readership as possible for important journal articles, the Foundation has covered the costs of ‘open access’ publication for several documents.
Finlayson G, Taggart P & Cooke B. ‘Recovering Australia’s arid zone ecosystems: learning from continental-scale rabbit control experiments.’ Restoration Ecology. Vol 30 Issue 4. This report is a keystone document in reporting and analysing a treasure trove of evidence from around 100 different papers into the effect of rabbits on the environment in Australia.
The ‘take-home’ messages are:
- Rabbit bio-controls have been incredibly effective in reducing rabbit numbers.
- Reducing rabbit densities allows vegetation to recover, and that leads to the recovery of native fauna.
- Reducing rabbit densities is also a driver of the long-term reduction of feral predators like cats and foxes.
- The effectiveness of bio-controls wanes over time, and new ones will be needed.
- On their own, biological controls do not keep rabbit numbers low enough to stop them determining which plant species get to grow and which don’t.
Rabbit biocontrol has been a tremendous success story – probably one of the most environmentally beneficial programs in Australian history. It is a credit to the many researchers and investors involved and their commitment over many decades, and to the thousands of land managers who have played their role alongside the release of the bio-controls.
Two documents are under preparation, drawing on work conducted as part of PhD studies by Amy Iannella, which the Foundation supported. Both will make important findings available to a wide audience.
One will report the finding that immune genes may differ between east and west coast rabbits in Australia – possibly explaining the differential impact of RHDV2 in different states. The second concerns the reproductive strategy and gene flow of rabbits at the Turretfield long term monitoring site, including evidence of multiple paternity and frequent mating outside of social groups, and the importance of RHDV outbreak/birth timing in juvenile survival.
Bush Heritage Australia is managing an integrated fox, cat and rabbit control project in southwest Western Australia, a global biodiversity hotspot. The project involves 17 local landholders and covers 55,000ha including farmland, public land, privately owned conservation reserves and roadside vegetation. Rabbits are proving to be more common and widespread than first thought and initial attempts at control did not successfully treat the problem.
Rabbit-Free Australia is helping cover some costs for a trial of alternative methods and timing to deliver baits and biological control (calicivirus) to find a more effective approach. The trials will be monitored using remote cameras and the sampling of rabbit carcasses.
Dr Stephen Frankenberg of the University of Melbourne will lead this frontier, ‘blue-sky’, research to see if it is possible to modify a specific rabbit gene (e.g. one related to fertility) in a way that is self-propagating, thus becoming predominant throughout the population. Gene-drive technology has been used in insects but its wider application remains to be tested through projects like this. Should the technique be effective, there will be numerous ethical and social questions to work through before it is applied. This work will help RFA to better understand the prospects of the technology and the complex issues around it.
The University of Melbourne research conforms with biosecurity standards for gene-drive research and is a small first step to what could eventually be a major tool in wild rabbit control. The project has two parts, firstly to develop the technology in zebrafish (a species often used for such work), including measures to enable gene-drive resistance in non-target populations, then moving to proof-of-principle trials with rabbit stem-cells.