The Australian Rabbit Mystery May Have Been Solved | National Geographic

The burrowing hare, this beautiful, charming, round, innocent-looking animal, was originally only native to the Iberian Peninsula and southern France, then spread to the rest of Europe during domestication from the time of the Romans to the East. Ages (then it got to us). Since the 18th century, rabbits have been transported to Australia countless times, and we know of at least 90 such cases, but only in 1859, with a new shipment of 24 rabbits, were freed from Hell. In the next five decades, rabbits spread 100 kilometers a year in Australia, invading the entire continent. It was the fastest animal invasion ever.

Australia flooded the descendants of the 1859 shipment.

Source: Cambridge University

Although this process, due to its extremely detrimental effect on nature, has been researched by many people, it is still not clear why the 1859 charge is different from the previous one. The Cambridge University Introduced that new Posted in PNAS The search result in which they can find the answer.

Based on genetic testing and historical data, the following questions had to be answered:
Where do invasive rabbits come from in Australia?
– Was the invasion caused by one shipment of rabbits or several shipments?
– How could they spread across the continent?
Is there a genetic reason for their success?

The researchers examined the gene pool of 187 rabbits captured from countless places on the continent, and compared them to those of potential source groups (French and British rabbits), as well as that of Tasmanian and New Zealand rabbits. Based on this, they were able to trace the invasion of Australian rabbits to a single source.

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Thomas Austin – The rabbit infestation can be traced back to his rabbits that arrived in 1859.

Source: Cambridge University

The conquest is connected with the property of Thomas Austen, who received a shipment of rabbits that his brother had sent from England on Christmas Day 1859, from his home in Somerset. Researchers have now been able to trace the Australian rabbit back to the English population, with the Austin family capturing the original animals. The tests provided clear data: this was the only shipment of rabbits that made up the army that swept the continent. Austin himself, a few years later, already reported shooting 20,000 rabbits, and Prince Alfred (one of the sons of Queen Victoria) also hunted on his property while visiting Australia. The Australian rabbit genes have been found to be very similar to those of the Somerset wild rabbit.

With the spread of rabbits, away from the Austin possessions, the genetic makeup of the population changed, and their genetic diversity decreased, but rare genetic variants characterized by rapid population growth proliferated. Despite countless actions (fences, myxoma virus, etc.), the rabbit remains the most dangerous invasive species in Australia. Although experts have previously argued that a species’ ability to become invasive depends on many factors, it has now been found that the genetic makeup of the starting group is important above all else.

Although rabbits are hunted en masse, the problem has grown and grown. You could say: They multiplied like rabbits.

Source: Cambridge University

Rabbits before 1859 were often noted to have been of different colours, to have strange drooping ears, and to be considered very tame – suggesting that these rabbits may have been domesticated animals. However, Austin’s shipment contained wild-caught animals, at least some of the 24 animals. Although there were many changes in the domesticated animals that could have prevented them from becoming an alien species, a lack of a few genes is thought to be responsible: genes that were an adaptation to the dry Australian climate. Australian rabbits eventually adapted to regulate their body temperature in the semi-desert situation by changing the shape of their bodies. Could the Austin burrowing hares carry the genetic variant that made this possible?

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Researchers Joel Alves and Frances Giggins, the slightly worn hare in front of them is a specimen from the University of Cambridge Museum.

Source: Cambridge University

It also turned out that Austin’s English brother could only hunt rabbits in the wild with great difficulty, yet he had to add domesticated rabbits to his team of 13. From genetic analyzes it turned out that the story of this family is true, they found genetic traces of both wild and domesticated rabbits. During the rabbit cargo trip (80 days), the animals may have mixed with each other and multiplied, which explains more (24) more rabbits arrived on Austin’s property than his brother had sent. This episode of the story may be the key to understanding the invasion!

Perhaps it was the genetics of hares that made the largest and most dangerous animal invasion ever. “Let this be an example for us: Even the actions of one person, or the actions of a few officials, can lead to devastating environmental damage,” researcher Joel Alves added. It is also true for rabbits in Australia, and later in Tasmania and New Zealand, that genetic variants were necessary to become invasive species that allowed the animals to adapt to conditions in the wild.

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