Impact of the Rabbit in Australia
"The rabbit is one of the greatest pests of the pastoral industry in Australia, and has fundamentally altered ecosystems" (Wilson et al,10).
It would be difficult to exaggerate the economic and ecological impact of the rabbit prior
to myxomatosis. In good seasons there may have been one billion rabbits. As 16 rabbits
eat as much as one sheep (Short,1985), this is equivalent to approximately 60 million
sheep and the consequent loss of production. The economic impact of present day rabbit
populations is not well quantified but is estimated to be in the order of 90 million dollars
in lost production and about 20 million spent on control (Sloane et al.1988).
The rabbit impacts upon native wildlife in many ways:
Endangered species of the arid zone
B. Fauna - Impact on vegetation
- Due to selective grazing, the rabbit has changed ecosystem composition radically "Biomass and cover are reduced as perennial grasses and shrubs are replaced with annual species and then an increasing number of unpalatable and woody weeds" (Williams).
click to see another ringbarked tree
- During drought, rabbits will kill trees and shrubs by ring barking and digging to eat the roots in search of moisture. Hence, rabbits not only control species germination, but the species composition of mature plants thus effecting biodiversity.
C. Soil Erosion
Due to high population numbers, the impact of rabbits prior to the introduction of myxomatosis was imense. In the semi-arid and arid zones the rabbit continues to degrade the soil by destroying the stability of the soil by the removal of vegetation cover. By denuding the landscape, as rabbits will in droughts, it is leaving the soil highly susceptible to various forms of erosion and loss of fertility. Phillip Island (above and below) has severe erosion problems due to the presence of rabbits.
Return to Contents