the Iberian rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) is considered a subspecies of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which is found throughout much of Europe and parts of Africa. A member of the Leporidae family and is believed to have evolved in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Pleistocene era. Its abundance, size, and wide range make it a crucial prey item for over 40 species of birds and mammals in the Iberian Peninsula. Notably, the Iberian lynx and Iberian imperial eagle heavily rely on the rabbit for survival. The rabbit’s high abundance and excellent quality of flesh make it a common small game species in Spain and Portugal.
Physical Characteristics and Diet
The Iberian rabbit is recognizable by its large ears, which can grow up to 7 cm in length, and its very short tail. Its back legs are strong and well-adapted for running. Adult rabbits weigh between 1.5 and 2.5 kg. As herbivores, their diets vary based on the characteristics of the habitats they live in, including dry and fresh plants, roots, bushes, leaves, and bark. Composite plants (Asteraceae) are crucial for rabbits to reach their maximum breeding potential. The rabbit has evolved two efficient feeding systems based on the development of a long complex digestive tract with four stomachs.
Role in Ecosystems
Rabbits are known as true ecosystem engineers due to their role in excavating burrows and warrens, as well as the way in which they modify the structure of pastures and scrub formations. Furthermore, their excrements contribute to improving soil quality and seed dispersion. They are considered a multifunctional keystone species in Mediterranean ecosystems in the Iberian Peninsula, given their role in modulating the landscapes and as a prey item for numerous carnivore species.
Habitat and Warrens
Although rabbits can be found in a wide variety of environments, they are most abundant in Mediterranean scrubland, particularly if there are cultivated areas nearby and the landscape is flat or gently rolling. Their warrens, which serve as shelter and breeding grounds, play a crucial role in maintaining rabbit populations. Young rabbits depend entirely on their warrens, and the size and complexity of the warren determine the number of rabbits that can live there and the number of young they can produce. Their warrens tend to be placed in transitional or contact areas between scrub and pastures or cultivated fields.
The wild rabbit is a prolific breeder, with females being fertile all year round. The quality and quantity of food rabbits consume determine whether or not females are on heat, and therefore, able to breed. The amount of water in their diet also directly affects their ability to produce milk for their kittens. Rabbit breeding periods depend on the quality and abundance of pastures where they graze, with breeding most often taking place between November and June. While their life expectancy is short, around 1.2 years, rabbits have a great reproductive potential, with 3-6 young in each brood, and become sexually mature within a few months of being born.
Predation and Control
Rabbits face predation from numerous carnivore species, such as the Iberian lynx, Iberian imperial eagle, and red fox. To minimize the risk of predation, rabbits tend not to roam far from their warrens to feed, and their territory depends greatly on the type of habitat and presence of predators. Control measures are often implemented to manage rabbit populations, as their abundance can cause damage to crops and vegetation. However, the effectiveness of these measures can be limited, as rabbits are prolific breeders and can quickly repopulate areas where their numbers have been reduced.
Project: The LIFE IBERCONEJO project is a conservation initiative focused on protecting the Iberian habitat and rabbit population in Spain.
Timeframe: 2021 to 2024
The project, which involves 15 partners from Spain and Portugal, including NGOs, research institutes, public administrations, and private entities, started in January 2021 and will run until December 2024. With a budget of 5.6 million euros, of which 3.4 million are co-financed by the European Union, the project aims to establish a governance structure called ERICC (European Rabbit Iberian Coordination Committee) to coordinate rabbit management efforts in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, the project seeks to implement standardized protocols for monitoring rabbit populations, their health status, and their impact on agriculture.
The impact of myxomatosis on rabbits and their predators in Spain
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that affects rabbits and is transmitted by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. The disease causes swelling of the eyes, nose, and genitalia, and often results in death. In Spain, myxomatosis has had a significant impact on the rabbit population, which in turn affects many of the animals that rely on rabbits as a food supply.
Rabbits are an important prey species for many predators in Spain, including foxes, eagles, and wildcats. The decline in rabbit populations due to myxomatosis has had a significant impact on these predators, leading to a decline in their numbers and potentially altering the balance of the ecosystem.
Myxomatosis has not only affected the rabbit population in Spain but also the animals that rely on rabbits for their survival. The disease has led to a decline in predator populations, which in turn can have a cascading effect on the ecosystem as a whole. It is essential to understand the impact of myxomatosis on the Spanish ecosystem to ensure the preservation of biodiversity.
Hybrid rabbits in Spain
Read about hybrid rabbits in Spain. Protesters accuse the government of deliberately releasing the animal to repopulate endangered species: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/hybrid-rabbits-in-spain/
Wikipedia has an extensive article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_rabbit
Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia. https://www.rondatoday.com/
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