The Department of Agriculture and Food is appealing for assistance from rural and metropolitan landholders in its latest research into controlling growing rabbit populations.
The department’s Invasive Species science group is exploring several options for improved rabbit control, including research into sourcing and releasing a new strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV).
The virus was first introduced in 1996 in response to a decline in the effectiveness of myxomatosis disease.
Department researcher Susan Campbell said that research in Western Australia was being undertaken as part of the national RHD-‘Boost’ program, run through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Australia's largest integrated invasive animal research program.
“The program aims to sample rabbits throughout Australia and assess whether individuals have been exposed previously and carry antibodies to RHDV and a related benign form of the virus,” Dr Campbell said.
“Western Australian landholders can help by reporting any suspected outbreak of RHDV on their property to their local department office or directly to our team.
“Outbreaks would be evidenced by carcasses that show no obvious outward signs of death.
“The information will be used to assist with the strategic release of new viral strains.”
Dr Campbell said that, along with fieldwork, researchers were conducting laboratory studies to source, sequence and test various strains of RHDV to identify a suitable, virulent strain for release in Australia.
The group is also investigating the role of insect vectors in the transmission of this virus by sampling flies from the wild and sequencing samples to determine whether a virus is present.
Dr Campbell said there was currently little information available on the pathways of transmission of RHDV in the wild.
“The research work being undertaken now will be of great benefit when it comes time to release any new strain(s) of RHDV in the near future,” Dr Campbell said.
The work is being funded by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, through its Australian Pest Animal Research Program to increase rabbit monitoring in Western Australia.
Since their introduction in 1859, European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) have had a devastating impact on agricultural production and biodiversity in Australia, with competition and land degradation by rabbits listed as key threatening processes under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act (1999).
Carcass reports can be made directly to Dr Susan Campbell on +61 (0)8 9366 2301.
Media contact: Jodie Thomson, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937