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Breeding like rabbits: global patterns of variability and determinants of European wild rabbit reproduction

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The importance of European wild rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus both as a pest in some areas and as a key prey species in others emphasizes the need to understand what controls its population dynamics worldwide. In this study we aim to describe the variability in rabbit breeding parameters and identify the main factors that govern it at a global scale. Despite the species’ wide distribution, some reproductive traits such as short sexual maturity age, duration of gestation period, and existence of post-partum oestrus are similar in all populations conferring the species a high breeding potential. Nevertheless, other aspects vary substantially among regions resulting in highly different population productivities and also across years. These latter parameters are the length of breeding season, proportion of pregnant females, age of first reproduction, and number and size of litters. Our results show that variability in these attributes is mainly affected by a combination of environmental controls (i.e. temperature, resource availability, and photoperiod) and individual properties (age and body weight). On the other hand, the effect of other factors such as population density could not be demonstrated. Knowledge about the factors driving global reproduction patterns of European wild rabbits will improve our understanding about their population dynamics, and thus will help to optimize the management and conservation of their populations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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