Scientists are trying to determine if a decline in rabbit population diversity in Portugal and Spain could be driving the rare Iberian lynx to extinction.
According to the bio-geographical and conservation magazine Diversity and Distribution, Portuguese and Spanish scientists believe that a lack of wildlife diversity, particularly different types of rabbit, may be behind the decline in Iberian lynx numbers, which have fallen to around 150.
The two animals arose at approximately the same time on the peninsula and evolved together over the last million years, establishing a complex interdependent relationship.
Because of illness, mainly myxomatosis, rabbit populations in North-West Europe suffered a sharp decline in the 1980s, which also mirrored a sharp reduction in the wild lynx which is now confined to the Iberian peninsula.
Now scientists are seeking to discover if the decline in the lynx is caused by a problem of a lack of rabbits or, as they suspect, a lack of diversity in rabbit species in general.
“Our present conservation plans consist of trying to maintain and increase the lynx numbers in the South-West by introducing more rabbits but results have not been satisfactory,” Márcia Barbosa of Évora University told news agency Lusa.
“We propose attempting to reintroduce the lynx in Northern Europe as well as in areas where it has already become extinct, because rabbit populations have been increasing there,” she added.
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