WILD RABBIT: DISTRIBUTION AND EVOLUTION
The wild rabbit is an endemic species from the Iberian Peninsula, and perhaps the French Mediterranean. Its natural range, until the Middle Ages, was limited to these areas (Callou 1995), but at that time man introduced the rabbit all over Europe and from there to the rest of the world (resulting in domestic races). Domestication seems to come from the Romans and through the Roman legions when the rabbit begins to spread throughout southern Europe.
If the Iberian peninsula is divided by a diagonal cross from Galicia to the northeast of Andalusia, each subspecies would be in a different side: O. cuniculus algirus in the southwest quadrant and O. cuniculus cuniculus in the rest.
The distribution of the wild rabbit has been linked to man since ancient times. The subspecies O. c. algirus is present in southwestern Spain, North Africa and some Atlantic islands near the mainland coast. O. c. cuniculus has colonized a large portion of Europe, including the British Isles, New Zealand, Australia, parts of South America, South Africa, North America and many islands in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Ocean. Of this subspecies derive all known domestic breeds.
World distribution range of the wild rabbit: native (green) and introduced (orange) ranges
The evolution of the lynx population parallels the evolution of rabbit populations, therefore, the LIFE Project includes a tracking programme of the rabbit populations, which began in 2003, from which the following conclusions are drawn.
Situation of the rabbit populations in Sierra Morena
Since 1994, rabbit populations are currently at low/very low levels compared to the 80s.
The interannual tendency of rabbit abundance throughout the 2003-2005 period was clearly positive.
In 2006, the rabbit population suffered a serious decline, but even so, the rabbit population is larger than that recorded at the beginning of the tracking programme (2003)
In 2006, there was an outbreak of RHD , before then Myxomatosis and RHD were not significant factors in the decline in population since 2003.
Locally, ranching pressures have had repercussions on the low reproductive rates in the rabbit populations.
Sierra Morena continues to be an important predator community to the rabbit populations, keeping their numbers low, and preventing the occupation of areas with low availability of shelter.
Situation of the rabbit populations in the Region of Doñana.
Between 2002 and 2004, the rabbit population inside the National Park declined, while in the Natural Park and surrounding area showed a significant increase.
In 2005, the rabbit population in the National Park increased.
According to data, it seems that the rabbit populations in Do§ana have stabilised with a slight tendency toward decline.
RHD (Rabbit Hemorragic Disease) does not seem to have had an impact on the populations, virtually no cases of death from RHD have been detected.
Myxomatosis may have a certain incidence on the population.
Habitat transformation negatively affects the evolution of rabbit populations, by eliminating areas of shelter and food.
Predation at very local levels has negative effects on rabbit populations.
Hunting, even under responsible and conservative management, has repercussions on the development of rabbit populations. The Do§ana Hunting Preserves are social reserves with a large number of members and there are not enough rabbits for everyone.