Remarkable recovery wild rabbit population in dune areas

09/05/2006 14:00

Since 2003, the wild rabbit population has increased dramatically in dune areas. The rabbit population appears to recover from a period which began in 1990, when the Netherlands was swept by the VHS virus.

No recovery outside dune areas

Spring counts conducted in the water collection area in the Amsterdam dunes suggest that thee rabbit population has increased dramatically last year. Recovery was also recorded in other dune areas, particularly in cattle-grazed parts. There is no noticeable recovery of the rabbit population on elevated sandy soils. The situation in the other areas is unpredictable.

Rabbit population in water collection area in the Amsterdam dunes

Rabbit population in water collection area in the Amsterdam dunes

Viral disease

The viral haemorrhagic syndrome (VHS) was diagnosed for the first time in 1990. The gradual recovery of the rabbit population from another severe viral disease, myxomatosis, was thus offset. VHS had reduced the rabbit population in the water collection area in the Amsterdam dunes by more than half in 2001 compared to 1993. Since 2003 the population is recovering.

Rabbits and nature management

The rabbit population is important for nature reserves, because the rabbits’ burrowing and grazing activities guarantee an open and diverse vegetation. The strong decline of the rabbit population, previously caused by an outbreak of myxomatosis, contributed to the rampant growth of grass, shrubs and forests in nature reserves on elevated sandy soils and in dune areas. In many places, big grazers were deployed to reverse this process. Rabbits are also important for the ecosystem, because owls and predators prey on them.

Regional dispersion rabbit population

Regional dispersion rabbit population

Regional differences

There are large regional differences in the rabbit populations in the Netherlands. Viral diseases are easily spread in relatively large populations as found in dune areas. Such large populations are struck hard, but often rapidly develop a natural resistance and recover quickly. In this respect, the degree of isolation, changes in the biotope and the season in which the infection occurs, also play an important part.

Tom van der Meij (CBS), Leo van Breukelen (Waternet), Vilmar Dijkstra (VZZ).