Rabbit biocontrol trials

The West Australian

WA landowners and managers impacted by rabbits are invited to take part in a new national initiative examining an improved biocontrol method against the destructive pest.

Groups focused on landcare and agricultural management can nominate sites for the proposed release of a new strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, commonly known as rabbit calicivirus.

The national release is a collaborative project between government and industry partners across Australia and co-ordinated through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre.

Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia officer Susan Campbell said this national release program provided an interesting opportunity for groups to access another tool for controlling rabbits.

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"Rabbits have been a serious pest for more than a century, causing enormous impact on native biodiversity and agricultural production," Dr Campbell said.

"Rabbit numbers are increasing and an improved biological control agent in conjunction with a community-led response, using best practice management, presents a unique opportunity to mitigate rabbit impacts."

RHDV was first introduced into Australia in 1996 and has had a significant impact on controlling pest rabbit populations.

The new strain, RHDV K5, is a naturally occurring variant from Korea, which is currently under assessment by government regulators.

"RHDV K5 was selected for release because it can overcome the protective effects of a benign calicivirus, which naturally occurs in Australian rabbits, particularly those occupying the wetter, cooler regions of the country."

Release is likely to take place in early spring 2016 or autumn 2017.

Sites selected to participate in the rollout will require some pre and post-release rabbit population monitoring and sampling.

"Individual landowners or managers are encouraged to work together or with existing local groups in order to take part in this initiative," Dr Campbell said.

The deadline for expressions of interest is May 31, 2016.

More information is available from the national PestSmart website www.pestsmart/get-involved- as-a-monitoring-site/.

Dr Campbell said even with a new strain, it was critical conventional control measures against rabbits continued to be used.

Visit www.agric.wa.gov.au for control options.

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