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Land-use changes as a critical factor for long-term wild rabbit conservation in the Iberian Peninsula



European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), a multifunctional keystone species in the Iberian Peninsula, have drastically declined over past decades. Rabbit decline has been frequently attributed to the arrival of two viral diseases. However, decline was apparently ongoing before the arrival of the diseases, as a consequence of habitat loss and fragmentation. In this paper, the effect on rabbit populations of land-use changes during recent decades in Andalusia (southern Spain) is analysed. Areas favourable for rabbits both at present and during the 1960s are identified, and the environmental and land-use factors that determine these areas established. In areas where the favourability for rabbits has changed during recent decades, main land use changes are assessed to identify possible factors explaining rabbit favourability in these areas. Areas favourable to rabbits are currently determined by factors similar to those during the 1960s; these areas have undergone geographic changes in recent decades, apparently as a consequence of land-use changes in Andalusia. The percentages of the variables that were positively associated with rabbit favourability in both models (current and 1960s) have declined in Andalusia as a whole, and in areas where rabbit favourability has decreased; hence environments suitable for rabbits have become impoverished. Conversely, in both models, environments suitable for rabbits increased in municipalities, where rabbit favourability also increased. The preservation of rabbit-friendly habitats should be a priority for the conservation of this key species in the western Mediterranean.


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*Correspondence: Dr Miguel Delibes-Mateos Tel: +34 926295450 Fax: +34 926295451 e-mail:


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Land-use changes as a critical factor for long-term wild rabbit conservation in the Iberian Peninsula



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