The future biological control of pest populations of European rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus.
European rabbits are exotic pests in Australia, New Zealand, parts of South America and Europe, and on many islands. Their abundance, and the damage they cause, might be reduced by the release of naturally occurring or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that act as biological control agents (BCAs). Some promising pathogens and parasites of European rabbits and other lagomorphs are discussed, with special reference to those absent from Australia as an example of the range of necessary considerations in any given case. The possibility of introducing these already-known BCAs into areas where rabbits are pests warrants further investigation. The most cost-effective method for finding potentially useful but as-yet undiscovered BCAs would be to maintain a global watch on new diseases and pathologies in domestic rabbits. The absence of wild European rabbits from climatically suitable parts of North and South America and southern Africa may indicate the presence there of useful BCAs, although other explanations for their absence are possible. Until the non-target risks of deploying disseminating GMOs to control rabbits have been satisfactorily minimised, efforts to introduce BCAs into exotic rabbit populations should focus on naturally occurring organisms. The development of safe disseminating GMOs remains an important long-term goal, with the possible use of homing endonuclease genes warranting further investigation.