Thursday, February 12, 2015

New Variation of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Threatening the Iberian Lynx

European rabbit

A recent study led by the Hunting Resources Research Institute has indicated that a new variation of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in wild rabbits is threatening the survival of the Iberian lynx. Scientists have discovered this new variation all over the Iberian Peninsula, including areas where the lynx live, such as the Sierra Morena mountains. According to Miguel Delibes-Mateos, the co-author of the study, there is very little known about this variation making it hard to say whether it is more serious than the previous one. However, the major difference is that it is known to affect very young rabbits aged ten or eleven days and put their dynamics in danger, which has never happened before. In addition, there is no study which explicitly assesses the mortality rate of wild rabbits as a result of the new variation. Recent studies indicate that the new variation appears to be taking over the common disease virus, which is believed to be the major factor in the decline of wild rabbits in the Iberian Peninsula. Data from the government of Andalusia and the Life-Lince Project indicated that the reduction in the abundance of rabbits has been characterized by a significant decline in the number of lynx kittens born in the wild between 2012 and 2013. Furthermore, the Iberian lynx is not the only organism tremendously affected by this new variation of the RHDV. Other components of the Iberian Peninsula's ecosystem such as plants whose seeds are dispersed by the rabbits to enable their growth. Also, the rabbits' warrens provide shelter for large numbers of vertebrates and invertebrates and their feces provide food for beetles and nutrients to the soil. Delibes-Mateos confirmed that scientists and researchers can assume that the healthiest rabbit populations would survive the disease more favorably as it was seen in the case of the original disease virus in the 1990s.
Iberian lynx

It is very disturbing to see how the trend of the RHDV is continuously affecting the rabbit population in the Iberian Peninsula, especially with the discovery of a new variation of the virus which is not known in science. It is very crucial to begin studying this new variation of RHDV, in order to better understand how it affects the rabbit population compared to the original virus and what could be done to eliminate it. The Iberian lynx and other wild carnivores in the Iberian Peninsula rely on the European rabbit as a source of food. If the rabbit population continues to dwindle, it can have a severe impact on the lynx population. This was seen in the case of a major decline in the number of lynx kittens born in the wild between 2012 and 2013 and could affect populations of other carnivorous species in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, the depletion in the rabbit population could also affect other components of the peninsula's ecosystems such as beetles and soil which depend on the rabbits' feces for food and nutrients. The defecation made by rabbits from eating plants is known to promote seed dispersal which would cease to exist if this new virus variation prevails. Therefore, it is extremely essential to study this new form of virus to help in battle against the rabbit hemorrhagic disease in order save not just the rabbits but also the Iberian lynx and other components of the peninsula's ecosystem.

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