Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Oryctolagus cuniculus
(rabbits)

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Datasheet

Oryctolagus cuniculus (rabbits)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 19 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • rabbits
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Native to southern Europe and North Africa, the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been introduced to all continents, except Antarctica and Asia. In many countries, rabbits cause serious er...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus); adult in a grassy meadow with buttercups (Ranunculus sp). Nr. Cholsey, Oxfordshire, UK. May 2007.
TitleAdult in a grassy meadow
CaptionRabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus); adult in a grassy meadow with buttercups (Ranunculus sp). Nr. Cholsey, Oxfordshire, UK. May 2007.
Copyright©Michael J. Amphlett 2007 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus); adult in a grassy meadow with buttercups (Ranunculus sp). Nr. Cholsey, Oxfordshire, UK. May 2007.
Adult in a grassy meadowRabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus); adult in a grassy meadow with buttercups (Ranunculus sp). Nr. Cholsey, Oxfordshire, UK. May 2007.©Michael J. Amphlett 2007 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Preferred Common Name

  • rabbits

Other Scientific Names

  • Lepus cuniculus Linnaeus, 1758

International Common Names

  • English: domestic rabbits; European rabbit; rabbit; rabbit
  • French: lapin

Local Common Names

  • Germany: Europäisches Wildkaninchen; kaninchen

DADIS local name

  • Conill Eivissenc
  • Conill Pages
  • Local Rabbit

DADIS main name

  • Baladi Black
  • Baladi Red
  • Baladi White
  • Beige
  • Deilenaar
  • Galabi
  • Giza White
  • Gouwenaar
  • Hulstlander konijn
  • Ibicenco
  • Klein Lotharinger
  • Ned. Hangoordwerg
  • Nederlandse Kleurdwerg
  • Sallander
  • Tho Noi
  • Thrianta konijn

Summary of Invasiveness

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Native to southern Europe and North Africa, the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been introduced to all continents, except Antarctica and Asia. In many countries, rabbits cause serious erosion of soils by overgrazing and burrowing, impacting on native species that depend on undamaged ecosystems.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Lagomorpha
  •                         Family: Leporidae
  •                             Genus: Oryctolagus
  •                                 Species: Oryctolagus cuniculus

Description

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Grey-brown fur and white-grey belly. Adults 1000-2000 g. Two pairs of upper incisors; the second smaller incisors are behind the first, a feature that distinguishes leporids from rodents. They are smaller than adult hares.

Distribution

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The rabbit was originally confined to the Iberian Peninsula and was first transported around the Mediterranean by Phoenician traders. Rabbits were domesticated in French monasteries between AD 600 and 1000 and domestic rabbits probably reached Britain in the twelfth century (the young were considered a delicacy) and were later spread throughout the British Isles, and to other islands in the north-east Atlantic. Much later, rabbits were put ashore from ocean-going sailing ships in South Africa (from Holland) in 1654, Chile in the mid eighteenth century, the Falkland Is in 1764, New Zealand in 1777, and Australia in 1788 (Norbury and Reddiex, 2005). Rabbits have been introduced to over 800 islands so far for reasons ranging from a food source for shipwrecked sailors to a source of amusement for tourists. Introductions have varied in success from complete failure to populations so large that they destroy almost all vegetation on the island (Flux and Fullagar, 1992).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

ChinaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
IndiaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-Himachal PradeshPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-MeghalayaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-West BengalPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
IraqPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
MalaysiaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
NepalPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
VietnamPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001

Africa

Crozet IslandsPresentIntroducedBetween 1826 and1887 Invasive ISSG, 2011
EgyptPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
NigeriaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
RéunionPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced16th century, reintroduced in 1770ISSG, 2011
-AscensionPresentIntroduced1830 Invasive ISSG, 2011
SenegalPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
SeychellesRestricted distributionIntroducedEarly 1900s. Invasive ISSG, 2011

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
USAPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-HawaiiRestricted distributionIntroduced1903ISSG, 2011
-MarylandPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001

South America

Falkland IslandsPresentIntroduced1764 or 1770 on Saunders IslandISSG, 2011

Europe

BelgiumPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
Czech RepublicPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
FrancePresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
GermanyPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
HungaryPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
ItalyPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
PolandPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
PortugalPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
-AzoresPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
RomaniaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
SlovakiaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
SpainPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
SwitzerlandPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
UKPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced1859 Invasive ISSG, 2011
-Western AustraliaPresentCAB ABSTRACTS Data Mining 2001
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced1870 Invasive ISSG, 2011
New ZealandRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011
Norfolk IslandRestricted distributionIntroduced1830 Invasive ISSG, 2011
Phoenix IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2011

Habitat

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Desirable features of ideal rabbit habitat include an annual rainfall of <1000mm, a sunny aspect, light soil, and adequate cover close to feeding grounds kept closely grazed. Although rabbits can tolerate higher rainfall, they do so only on light soils and where other animals help to maintain a short sward. In wetter areas, rabbits favour dunelands, dry stony riverbeds, limestone hills with outcropping rocks, and sunny coastal slopes. They usually avoid cold and wet conditions, and are absent from alpine lands, unbroken scrub, and heavily built-up areas (Norbury and Reddiex, 2005). Although usually an animal of open country, in New Zealand rabbits have survived in low numbers on a few forested islands where the forest is low and not very dense (SPREP, 2000).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
 
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

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 Nutrition
Rabbits eat grass and other herbaceous vegetation. They need a diet of less than 40% fibre, 10-20% protein for maintenance, and 14% protein for reproduction. They can be very selective in their choice of food, practise coprophagy, and ferment food in the hind gut.

Reproduction
Placental. Sexual. Rabbits have an endogenous reproductive cycle mainly modulated by day length and nutrition.
18-30 young per female adult per year. Females as young as 3 months can breed.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Introduction pathways to new locations


Acclimatisation societies: In the 19th and early 20th century, Acclimatisation Societies in Australia and New Zealand brought rabbits from Great Britain in an attempt to transplant the mother country to the new colonial frontier.
Other: If put ashore for shipwrecked people they usually died out, but they persisted on some islands.
Ship: Sailing ships in the 18th and 19th century sometimes carried live rabbits for food.

Local dispersal methods


Natural dispersal (local):

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Acclimatization societies Yes
Intentional release Yes
Live food or feed trade Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Biodiversity (generally) Negative
Native fauna Negative
Native flora Negative

Impact

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Rabbits cause severe damage to the natural environment and agricultural areas. They compete with native wildlife for food and shelter, and contribute to a decline in the numbers of many native plants and animals. They can also enhance negative impacts on native species by supporting large populations of predators such as cats and foxes. They cause extensive erosion through browsing and loss of plant cover and often destroy the habitat of many small animals. Rabbits also compete with livestock for food (Courchamp et al. 2003; Norbury and Reddiex, 2005).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Telespiza cantans (Laysan finch)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiPest and disease transmissionUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1984
Urocyon littoralis catalinae (Santa Catalina Island fox)USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesCaliforniaEcosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2004

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing

Uses

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Valuable to humans as a domestic and game animal, rabbits were often released onto islands in the past as a food source for marooned sailors (Berman, 2002).

Uses List

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General

  • Game animal

Human food and beverage

  • Food

Prevention and Control

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Management options include fencing, warren ripping, baiting, fumigating and biological control with myxomatosis, rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus and fleas as vectors (Moseby et al. 2005; Richardson et al. 2007). Rabbits have been eradicated from a number of islands including Enderby Island (710 ha) in the Auckland Islands group (NZ), Phillip Island (190 ha) in the Norfolk Island group and Round Island (151 ha), Mauritius. Both the Enderby Island and Round Island campaigns used brodifacoum as Talon 20P® baits. Merton (1987) gives details of the Round Island operation including bait preference and acceptance trials, and tolerance of reptiles to the anti-coagulant poison used. Details of the successful operation on Enderby and Rose Islands are available in Torr (2002).

Preventative measures: Risk Assessment models for assessing the risk that exotic vertebrates could establish in Australia have been further explored by the Western Australia Department of Agriculture & Food (DAFWA) to confirm that they reasonably predict public safety, establishment and pest risks across a full range of exotic species and risk levels

The Risk assessment for the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), has been assigned a VPC Threat Category of EXTREME.
Mammals and birds were assessed for the pest risk they pose if introduced to Australia, by calculating Vertebrate Pests Committee (VPC) Threat Categories. These categories incorporate risk of establishing populations in the wild, risk of causing public harm, and risk of becoming a pest (eg causing agricultural damage, competing with native fauna, etc). The 7-factor Australian Bird and Mammal Model was used for these assessments.

Physical: Shooting of rabbits is an inefficient method of control but unlike poisoning it does not kill predators of rabbits such as cats. Where rabbits are present with other grazing animals, removal of the latter will often result in the growth of rank vegetation unsuitable for rabbits; this can be used as a method of partial rabbit control.

Chemical: In New Zealand, poisoning has most often been carried out with compound 1080 added to carrots or oats and spread from the air. On small islands, acute poisons such as phosphorus, cyanide, strychnine and compound 1080 are all likely to kill non-target species. Second-generation anti-coagulant poisons such as brodifacoum have been used successfully against rabbits although precautions are often necessary to protect non-target species (Flux 1993).

Biological: In 1998, a virus, rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD, formerly called RCD), was introduced to New Zealand illegally. In some areas it has killed many rabbits, but whether it will continue to be effective in the long-term is doubtful. Myxomatosis, a contagious and often lethal disease specific to rabbits is sometimes suggested for rabbit control. This not only requires flea or mosquito vectors but causes considerable suffering to the animals affected. Furthermore, eradication by such means is unlikely. Atkinson (SPREP 2000) does not recommend use of either RHD or myxomatosis on Pacific islands. Flux (1993) examined the relative effectiveness of various methods of rabbit control using a sample of 607 islands distributed throughout the world. The main finding was that competition from hares was twice as effective at clearing rabbits off islands as predation by cats or from myxomatosis.

Bibliography

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Atkinson, I. and Atkinson, T. J., 2000. Land vertebrates as invasive species on the islands of the South Pacific. In: The Invasive Species in the Pacific: A Technical Review and Draft Regional Strategy. Sherley, G. (tech. ed). Published in June 2000 by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

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Bomford, M., 2003. Risk Assessment for the Import and Keeping of Exotic Vertebrates in Australia. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra. http://www.feral.org.au/feral_documents/PC12803.pdf

Bouchet, P., Jaffre, T., & Veillon, J.M. 1995. Plant extinction in New Caledonia: protection of sclerophyll forests urgently needed. Biodiversity & Conservation, 4, 415-428.

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Chekchak, T., Chapuis, J.L., Pisanu, B., & Boussès, P. 2000. Introduction of the rabbit flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi, to a subantartic island (Kerguelen Archipelago) and its assessment as a vector of myxomatosis. Wildlife Research, 27, 91-101.

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Merton., D, G., Climo, V. Laboudallon, S. Robert, and C. Mander., 2002. Alien mammal eradication and quarantine on inhabited islands in the Seychelles. In Turning the tide: the eradication of invasive species: 182-198. Veitch, C.R. and Clout, M.N.(eds). IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group. IUCN. Gland. Switzerland and Cambridge. UK.

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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    Reviewed by: David Berman, Department of Natural Resources, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.
    Compiled by: IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
    Last Modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

 

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