Mortality patterns over 3 years in a sparse population of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in New Zealand, with an emphasis on rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD)

Henning, J and Pfeiffer, D U and Davies, P R and Stevenson, M A and Meers, J (2008) Mortality patterns over 3 years in a sparse population of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in New Zealand, with an emphasis on rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). European Journal of Wildlife Research, 54 (4). pp. 619-626.

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Abstract

A sparse rabbit population in New Zealand was monitored over 3 years to assess the temporal dynamics of rabbit mortality, in particular to understand the mortality patterns due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). A total of 107 deaths were recorded, of which 93 could be classified by cause. The predominant cause of mortality was predation (47% of deaths), followed by RHD (20%). Deaths due to RHD were clustered in time (within 3 weeks), predation occurred most actively from late autumn to spring, while other causes of death did not show pronounced seasonal peaks. No differences in cause-specific death risk were observed between sexes. Predation was the main cause of death in younger animals, while RHD mortality occurred mainly in older rabbits. This study has shown that the impact of RHD can vary considerably between years, indicating that a variety of risk factors are required to initiate a RHD epidemic with a high mortality rate among rabbits.