12 April 2017
European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are a key element in the food web of Mediterranean mountain ecosystems since they are one of the most common prey for many carnivores, including several birds of prey. Thus, when rabbit populations decrease many predators depending on them get immediately affected. Low densities of rabbits would reduce the availability of food for predators and therefore the viability of their populations.
Rabbits in the Puigventós area are a main food supply for the only pair of Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata) still nesting in Montserrat and they can also play an important role in the recovery of another local emblematic species currently in decline: the European eagle-owl (Bubo bubo). That is why the project is monitoring rabbit populations in Puigventós as well as their response to the actions fostered by the project itself.
The main concrete conservation actions that have been carried out in the Puigventós area are prescribed burning to control the advance of bush vegetation and to recover herbaceous-dominated open areas. Considering that habitat fragmentation and forest cover growth that occur after the abandonment of rural activities are among the main causes of rabbit population decline, it could be expected that prescribed burning would improve the habitats for rabbits and therefore lead to an increase of local rabbit populations.
And according to the first results of rabbit monitoring in Puigventós this seems to be happening: the presence of rabbits increases significantly in burnt plots while it remains unchanged in control plots.
Further monitoring data should provide stronger evidence of these results but one year after prescribed burning activity started in Puigventós biodiversity benefits can already be observed.