How twenty rabbits began an ecological invasion in Australia |  smart news

How twenty rabbits began an ecological invasion in Australia | smart news

Australia is home to nearly 200 million rabbits, which is not their original home in the country and is harmful to crops and ecosystems.
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In Australia today, European wild rabbits eat through pastures and crops, reducing land productivity and competing with the local wildlife. The Invasive species It threatens about 300 species of plants and animals, per Nature News Smriti Malapaty, costs the economy $200 million in agricultural damage each year, according to Sciences Jack Tamessy.

Now, a new genetic analysis shows that today’s 200 million rabbits may have been raised on just one in twenty.

Posted this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesThe research supports a theory previously put forward by historians, writes Guardian Donna Lowe: The idea that the rabbit problem in Australia can most likely be traced back to one-man ownership. On Christmas 1859, Thomas Austen, a wealthy English settler, received a shipment of 24 wild and indoor rabbits from his brother in England.

“This single event has caused such a massive catastrophe, both environmentally and economically, in Australia,” says Frances Giggins, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge in England and one of the authors of the new study. Nature News.

But this is not the first time that rabbits have been imported to the continent. According to historical records, the first European rabbits likely traveled to Australia with the first British colonists in 1788, every year. Nature News. Over the next 70 years, about 90 separate introductions of rabbits occurred in Australia.

However, it wasn’t until after Austin greeted his rabbits that the creatures began to take over. Its population expanded across the country at a rate of over 60 miles a year, and covered the entire continent within half a century, per Nature News. In 1865, Austin told local newspapers that he had killed 20,000 rabbits on his property, according to Sciences.

To determine the origins of the injury, the researchers conducted a genetic analysis of 187 European rabbits caught between 1865 and 2018 in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Great Britain and France. guardian. They found that most rabbits from the Australian mainland were genetically similar and had a mixture of wild and domestic origins, according to reports. temper nature News.

Australian rabbits also had many genetic similarities to rabbits in southwest England, where the Austin family collected the animals to send, Sciences. Researchers examined mitochondrial DNA, which is transmitted by the mother, to determine that several Australian rabbits are descended from five females introduced from Europe, according to the guardian.

Finally, rabbits captured far from Barron Park, where Austin lived, showed lower genetic diversity, which also indicated to the researchers that the rabbit infestation could have originated there. Nature News.

Rabbits imported from Austin had wild ancestry, which could partly explain why they thrived in Australia. Wild rabbits may have been better than domestic rabbits at avoiding predators and surviving in challenging terrain, says Joel Alves, an Oxford University evolutionary geneticist and co-author of the paper. Nature News. In addition, in the mid-19th century, humans were turning remote areas into pastures and hunting predators of rabbits, making it easier for these invaders to survive, Sciences Writes.

However, David Peacock, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, doesn’t think Austin should take all the blame for the rabbit infestation. In 2018, he co-authored A study Theorizing that multiple rabbit introductions led to species invasion. Says Sciences that other rabbits were released in Australia at the same time as Austin.

But he sees value in studying rabbit origins, as this knowledge can help eliminate populations of invasive species. “Better [we understand] Origin, prevalence, and genetics, we could have better managed Australia’s most dangerous pest,” he says Sciences.

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