Edited by Charles Perrings, Mark Williamson and Silvana Dalmazzone
Chapter 7: An introduced disease in an invasive host: the ecology and economics of rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) in rabbits in Australia
Piran C.L. White and Geraldine NewtonCross* 1 INTRODUCTION The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is the most destructive of Australia’s vertebrate pests (Vertebrate Biocontrol CRC, 1997). Wild rabbits have a substantial negative impact on agricultural production and nature conservation in Australia, and their impact is most pronounced in pastoral agriculture (Williams et al.,1995). The European rabbit is native to the Iberian peninsular. Rabbits have never been regarded as a pest in mainland Spain, but are valued for their ability to use poor grazing and are used for both meat and fur. Domestic rabbits were ﬁrst imported to Australia in 1788 but failed to spread. Wild rabbits were ﬁrst introduced in Victoria in 1859, primarily to be shot for game. However, rates of spread and population increase were far greater than expected, and in the absence of competitors and predators, rabbits rapidly colonized the country, spreading at a rate of between 20 and 100 km per year (Anderson and Nowak, 1997). This rapid spread occurred mainly through natural reproduction and dispersal, but it was helped by further releases as well. By 1880, rabbits had reached pest proportions in South Australia. This explosion in the rabbit population coincided with the large increase in sheep farming in Australia, with numbers of sheep increasing from less than 1 million in 1830 to more than 100 million in 1890 (Goodall, 1974). It is believed that the abundance of sheep in Australia contributed to the successful colonization of rabbits, due to the close cropping of grass...
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