Thursday, September 23, 2010

Alien Rabbits

European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus
In the 14 years from 1996 to 2010, Ireland has seen an increase in its number of animal species from 14,616 to 19,122, an increase of over 4,500 (Ferriss et al., 2009 Irish Biodiversity: a Taxonomic Inventory of Fauna). These new discoveries consist of animals that may have been overlooked before, animals that have have expanded their range and some that have been introduced, accidentally or on purpose. This last group, the deliberately introduced, have a long history on the island. One of the most recognisable is the European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, was introduced to Ireland around the time of the Norman conquest of 1169 (Sterry, 2004 Collins Complete Guide to Irish Wildlife p. 22).  

O. cuniculus originated in the Iberian peninsula (Branco et al., 2002 Evolution 56 pp. 792-803) and unfortunately are now considered near threatened there due to a combination of disease, habitat loss, hunting and eradication as a pest (Ward, 2005 Reversing Rabbit Decline: One of the Biggest Challenges for Nature Conservation in Spain and Portugal). This decline has a knock on effect on predators such as the critically endangered Iberian Lynx and Iberian Imperial Eagle.

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