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AUS: Effects Of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease

Media Releases issued by the Bureau of Rural Sciences part of Agriculture Fisheries & Forestry - Australia

AFFA99/12D

11 August 1999

New Reports Detail Effects Of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease

Five new reports provide the first comprehensive assessment of the effects of the rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) since its release in Australia in 1996. The reports were produced by the Bureau of Rural Sciences (BRS) for the RCD Management Group.

BRS Executive Director Dr Peter O'Brien said: "These publications provide us with an important and timely report card on the impact of RCD as a biological control agent on rabbit populations around Australia."

The reports cover the findings of the 1996-1998 Rabbit Calicivirus Disease Monitoring and Epidemiology Programs, and detail the benefits RCD has had for Australian agriculture and the natural environment. They were written by leading scientists from BRS, CSIRO and various State agencies.

Dr O'Brien said the key findings in the reports are:

RCD has been more effective in drier areas. Where rainfall is below 300 millimetres, rabbits have declined to one third or less of their pre-RCD numbers at 73 per cent of the monitoring sites. In contrast, at sites where the rainfall is above 300 millimetres, 46 per cent have recorded similar declines;

there has been little recovery in rabbit populations since RCD was released and, at many sites, rabbit numbers have remained low for more than two years;

a seasonal pattern to RCD outbreaks has developed in South Australia, where it has been active for more than three years.

RCD spreads each spring with further activity in autumn;

where RCD has reduced rabbit numbers, grazing pressure on pastures and native vegetation has also been reduced; and

cat and fox numbers have also declined at several sites. However, it is still too early to evaluate the benefits of this for the native species on which the foxes and cats prey.

"If RCD can provide us with a safe, reliable and long-term way of reducing the impacts of rabbits, the benefits will be significant." Dr O'Brien said.

"Our primary producers can look forward to increased production as well as greater flexibility in their land management decisions - especially during times of drought.

"It would also provide a significant boost for soil and biodiversity conservation."

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