Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Distribution and prevalence of the Australian non-pathogenic rabbit calicivirus is correlated with rainfall and temperature.

Abstract

Background: Australia relies heavily on rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) for the biological control of introduced European wild rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, which are significant economic and environmental pests. An endemic non-pathogenic rabbit calicivirus termed RCV-A1 also occurs in wild rabbits in Australian and provides partial protection against lethal RHDV infection, thus interfering with effective rabbit control. Despite its obvious importance for rabbit population management, little is known about the epidemiology of this benign rabbit calicivirus. Methods: We determined the continent-wide distribution and prevalence of RCV-A1 by analysing 1,805 serum samples from wild rabbit populations at 78 sites across Australia for the presence of antibodies to RCV-A1 using a serological test that specifically detects RCV-A1 antibodies and does not cross-react with co-occurring RHDV antibodies. We also investigated possible correlation between climate variables and prevalence of RCV-A1 by using generalised linear mixed effect models. Results: Antibodies to RCV-A1 were predominantly detected in rabbit populations in cool, high rainfall areas of the south-east and south-west of the continent. There was strong support for modelling RCV-A1 prevalence as a function of average annual rainfall and minimum temperature. The best ranked model explained 26% of the model structural deviance. According to this model, distribution and prevalence of RCV-A1 is positively correlated with periods of above average rainfall and negatively correlated with periods of drought. Implications Our statistical model of RCV-A1 prevalence will greatly increase our understanding of RCV-A1 epidemiology and its interaction with RHDV in Australia. By defining the environmental conditions associated with the prevalence of RCV-A1, it also contributes towards understanding the distribution of similar viruses in New Zealand and Europe.