Wild Rabbits And The Ecosystem: A Balancing Act Holding Everything Together

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Many people consider wild rabbits as pests. Gardeners complain that wild rabbits devour their lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables and fruits. But environmentalists have a different viewpoint as the animals eat many plants which we consider as weeds. Additionally, their feces and urine help nourish the soil.

Wild rabbits or European rabbits are insignificant-looking creatures, with unexceptional grayish-brown fur, small years, and relatively stubby legs. But they are a blessing for the environment. It sounds unbelievable, but the entire ecosystem could collapse if they were to vanish. But unfortunately, their numbers are declining rapidly on a global scale.

Wild Rabbits Promote Bio-Diversity But That Is Not True With Commercial Rabbit Breeding

The presence of wild rabbits is extremely important for another creature, bees. Their digging and grazing activities keep the ground in perfect condition that sustains other species.

wild rabbits

Unfortunately, wild rabbits have declined dramatically in Europe and UK. It is on the list of endangered species even in the Iberian Peninsula, its ancestral range. One prime reason is the cross-over of new strains of viruses from commercial breeds in surrounding farms.

Read: Biodiversity: Perils Which Haunt Our Ecosystem

The European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is primarily an inhabitant of heathlands and grasslands. Considered picky eaters, rabbits graze, burrow and scratch. They dig up the brush and ground in their grazing habitat by burrowing and scratching.

Such upturning of the soil through digging and grazing leads to areas of either short prairie grassy lands or bare soil. This helps invertebrates and rare plants thrive.

Wild rabbits dig, scrape, ad burrow and also add nutrients to the soil every time they defecate or urinate. Researchers have discovered

While other grazers such as cattle have a rather homogenous effect, wild rabbits score by the digging they do underground. Livestock grazing has a superficial effect on the land on which they graze.

The activity of the wild rabbits helps lowland grasslands, dense habitats, and heath.

Saving The Wild Rabbits

Wild rabbits face danger from multiple directions such as hunting, predators, habitat loss, diseases. The animals a considered endangered by the IUCN, the Iberian Peninsula covering Spain and Portugal.

wild rabbits

Dr. Bell says that Viruses such as RHDV I and II, which entered through the farmed animals, the high density and enclosed conditions gave rise to the rapid expansion of the variant. The viruses got into the wild population very quickly through waste products from such commercial breeding establishments. The viruses also spread through the foot and car tires.

 Such caliciviruses are now seen in around 9 species of hares, badgers, voles, and shrews. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease has also engulfed parts of the west and the southwest US. There have been sporadic outbreaks reported from the wild rabbits’ population in these regions. Humans have been the main cause of transmission due to their mobility.

Read: Entire Ecosystems Can Collapse Within A Decade If Global Warming Goes Unchecked

One disease, in particular, myxomatosis is spread through insects and came in through South America. A French farmer intentionally introduced the disease to decimate the population of wild rabbits in the 1950s.

The disease wiped out 90% of the rabbits in Europe during the early stages of the outbreak. It continues to affect the Iberian Peninsula rabbit populations.

Around 20 projects in England alone are fighting to save around 20 species of wild rabbits from extinction. Their work will benefit around 200 other species.

The initiative has led to record recovering in several species.

Including Farmers In The Process Of Saving Wild Rabbits

The realization of how critical wild rabbits are to the ecosystem has led to landowners joining in to help look after them.

A simple method that landowners can adopt is to create a pile of branches and build mounds of slopes to create a habitat for the rabbits.

In the past 3 years, conservationists have found that they have been successful in the conservation effort. Around 41% of such structures were found to contain burrows while activity has been detected in 91% of them. Other methods being used to conserve their population include creating wildlife corridors.

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