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Beja, P.; Pais, M.; Palma, L.
Rabbit _Oryctolagus cuniculus_ habitats in Mediterranean scrubland: the role of scrub structure and composition
2007  Wildlife Biology (13): 28-37

Although scrub cover is generally regarded as an important habitat component of the European wild rabbit _Oryctolagus cuniculus_, little is known about the species' responses to variation in scrub structure and composition. Such information is required for conservation management of rabbits in Mediterranean scrublands of the Iberian Peninsula (southwestern Europe), where the species is both a key resource for a range of endangered predators and a popular game species. To address this issue, we estimated the effects of variables characterising scrub vegetation on the occurrence and number of rabbit latrines in 60-250m transects distributed in a 5'000-ha scrubland-dominated landscape in southwestern Portugal. The strongest effect was that of cover by the shrub Cistus ladanifer, which was positively related to both the occurence and relative a bundance of rabbits. Conversely, rabbits showed negative responses to cover by Chamaespartium tridentatum ericoid and other broad-leaved shrubs. Rabbits favoured scrubs with a low density of woody vegetation at the ground level, but with positive effects of cover by grasses under the scrub and by forbs at the edge of the scrub. Taken together, our results suggest that conservation management of rabbit habitats in southwestern Portugal should strive to maintain scrub patches with a combination of favourable characteristics, including dense overhead cover but open access at the ground level, a developed herbaceous layer and woody species providing feeding opportunities during the summer period.

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