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" Discuss the history, geography and ecology of the rabbit invasion in Australia. Explain whether the complete eradication from Australiais feasible."

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Introduction

" Discuss the history, geography and ecology of the rabbit invasion in Australia. Explain whether the complete eradication from Australia is feasible." Numerous studies have been contacted on the Rabbit in Australia (Parer,I.(1977),Twigg, E.L., Lowe, J.T., Wheeler, G.A., Gray, S.G., Martin, R.G. & Barker,W.(1998), Wheeler,H.S. &King,R.D. (1985), Rolls,E.C. (1969)), covering issues such as it's population ecology, dispersal, survival and the efficiencies of the various control methods that have been used up to date. In the early stages of the rabbit plague, fences were erected to prevent dispersal or slow the rate of dispersal, but these proved to costly and ineffective. The fifties saw the introduction of the biological control agent, myxoma virus. This had great success initially but unfortunately the government failed to capitalize on the success, with continued control. The Rabbit Calcivirus Disease (RCD) was introduced (albeit accidentally) in the early 1990's. A highly infectious disease, spread by direct contact or by vectors (mosquito) with a mortality rate between 50-90%. However young kittens are not as susceptible as older rabbits (Linton 2001) and when the female goes on to breed they are able to pass on maternal antibodies to their young. In determining whether or not the complete eradication of the rabbit in Australia is a feasible concept, one needs to study or be aware of certain aspects of their ecology. ...read more.

Middle

Predators such as foxes increased in numbers as a direct result of the high number of rabbits to prey on. Unfortunately when the rabbit numbers declined due to drought, etc the foxes would turn on the small native mammals. The economic implications were also enormous; Sloane etal (1988) puts the impact at approximately $90 million in lost production and a further $20 million on the control. The European rabbit has an extremely high fertility rate together with a relatively short gestation period of approximately 30 days. They are able to fall pregnant immediately after giving birth. Their litter size fluctuates between four to seven kittens. Although small at birth, weighing about thirty-five grams they are able to increase their birth weight by a staggering 600% by the time they are ready to leave the warren, generally at about 21 days of age. They will be capable of breeding when they reach an age of 3-4 months (Parer 1977). The prolificacy of their breeding season is regulated by rainfall and hence the availability of food. When the rainfall is in short supply or during the occurrence of a drought, the breeding season will be short, litter sizes will be smaller and fewer females will breed (Twigg et al 1998). The warren provides the newly born and the young kittens with shelter from the harsh elements and protection from predators. ...read more.

Conclusion

Parer puts this down to the reduced invasion by immigrants due to its location and therefore the reduced population would be kept at low densities by resident facultative predators. It would seem that the complete eradication of the rabbit in Australia is insurmountable due to the enormity of our country and its' varied landscape. However with a management plan the targets individual regions, a reduction in the population density of the rabbit is achievable. This would involve a combination of control methods which would incorporate environmental, biological, economic factors (Linton 2001, Twigg etal 1998.Parer 1982). The biological controls still have an effect on the rabbit, so this together with mechanical controls and timing would beneficial to the overall problem. Mechanical controls such as warren ripping is an important element in the long term plan and the commencement of this should be when the rabbit population is low (Linton 2001). Therefore the likelihood of re-colonisation is reduced. Follow up procedures of fumigation; poisoning might be necessary to ensure that the population has been eradicated from within that area. The timing of these methods seems to play an intricate role in the rabbits' demise. Perhaps with time and proper management the eradication of the rabbit is feasible, but not without the financial support and backing of both regional and commonwealth governments. The key seems to be to start on a small scale and work up to larger regional control or eradication. ...read more.

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