Occupancy dynamics of wild rabits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the coastal dunes of the Nederlands with imperfect detection

A.J. van Strien, J.J.A. Dekker, M. Straver, T. van der Meij, L.L. Soldaat, A. Ehrenburg, E. van Loon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Wild rabbits are considered a key species in the coastal dunes of the Netherlands, but populations have collapsed as a result of viral diseases. Aim: We studied to what extent population collapse led to local extinction and whether recolonisation of empty patches in the dunes happened. Methods: We investigated occupancy dynamics using data of 245 transects where rabbits were surveyed in 1984–2009. Dynamic site-occupancy models were used to analyse the data. These models adjust for imperfect detection to avoid bias in occupancy-trend estimation. Key results: The decline of the rabbit population has resulted in many local extinctions, especially in woodland and in the northern part of the coastal dunes. Most transects along grassland and mixed vegetation have recently been reoccupied. The recovery of woodland occupancy is slow, probably not because of limited dispersal capacity of rabbits, but because the quality of woodland habitats is poor. Detection probability of rabbits varied considerably over the years and among habitat types, indicating the necessity of taking detection into account. Rabbits were slightly better detected when it was cloudy, windy and rainy and when lunar phase approached new moon. Conclusion: Extinction and recolonisation of habitat patches varied considerably among habitat types. Implications: The current slow recolonisation hampers the recovery of rabbit populations in woodland habitats in the Dutch coastal dunes. Furthermore, monitoring rabbit occupancy should take imperfect detection into account to avoid biased results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-725
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • hemorrhagic-disease
  • spotlight counts
  • european rabbits
  • population-size
  • conservation
  • abundance
  • models

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