A conservation paradox for the 21st century: The European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, an invasive alien and an endangered native species

Alexander C Lees, Diana J Bell

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116 Citations (Scopus)


This review highlights the status of the European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, which is threatened within its native range and yet is a highly successful colonizer across its worldwide, introduced range. The European wild rabbit is a keystone species in Iberia, and the survival of a range of threatened predator species, including the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus and Spanish imperial eagle Aquila aldabertii, is dependent upon the restoration of rabbit populations. Although not native to the UK, the rabbit also performs significant ecosystem services for nationally rare UK species, by maintaining short sward heights in heathland and grassland ecosystems, and serving as a prey item for populations of predators. We identify the European wild rabbit as an excellent model to demonstrate the wide range of complex effects that an introduced mammalian species may exert on ecosystems to which it has been introduced. These effects include habitat degradation following overgrazing, competition with native mammals and facilitating meso-predator release and hyperpredation. We also show that rabbit eradication from some sites may generate more problems than are solved because of the impacts of trophic cascades stemming from dependence on rabbits by native predator assemblages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-320
Number of pages17
JournalMammal Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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