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The impact of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cunniculus) on forest trees

Abstract

The rabbit is the most important mammalian pest of forest trees in Ireland. Damage can occur at all times of the year but the most severe damage has been reported in the late winter/spring period. Damage includes browsing to the leaders and side shoots and bark stripping. Four tree species, penduculate oak (Quercus robur), Ash (Fraxinus exelisor), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), and Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi), were identified as being particularly susceptible to all forms of damage. Beech (Larix sylvatica), sweet chestnut (Castanea saliva), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) all displayed low levels of damage. The levels of damage to individual tree species varied with food availability. Trees planted in clear felled areas were severely damaged where there was a delay between harvesting and replanting. A delay of two years will allow the buildup of the rabbit population in the clear felled area. Avoidance of such damage will necessitate a census of the area before clear-felling, elimination of the rabbit population where feasible, or fencing out of rabbits before planting.

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