New biocontrol strategy to combat Australia’s most destructive vertebrate pest – the rabbit

Today’s release of Australia’s Rabbit Biocontrol Pipeline Strategy will spearhead R&D efforts to reduce rabbit numbers, delivering welcome economic, environmental and social benefits across Australia.

The Strategy outlines 10 recommendations to improve the use of existing biocontrol agents and develop new biocontrol tools.

These solutions will enable a national and collaborative approach to rabbit biocontrol research and innovation, seeking to maintain low levels of rabbit populations and limit their impacts, protecting the gains made by previous successful biocontrol initiatives. It has been endorsed by all Australian governments at State and Federal levels.

“Given that rabbits and viral biocontrol agents are in an ‘arms race’, a pipeline of biocontrol agents needs to be developed and ideally released every 10 to 15 years, to keep rabbit impacts in check,” said Andreas Glanznig, the Centre’s Chief Executive.

“Without this strategic national R&D approach to deliver new biocontrol agents, Australia runs the risk of being exposed to growing rabbit impacts, which already cost Australian agriculture over $200m a year and impacts 322 nationally listed threatened species”.

Rabbit warrens degrade the environment and cause erosion.


Dr Tanja Strive, Senior Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and lead contributor to the Strategy said, “The good news is that biocontrol measures such as those outlined in the Strategy can facilitate the recovery of native species and ecological communities which have been heavily impacted by rabbits”.

The Strategy – developed by a highly experienced group of scientists from New South Wales, South Australia and Victorian government agencies and CSIRO – also highlights the importance of better integration of biological control with conventional controls, as well as an increased focus in extension and adoption methods.

“Biological control of rabbits has been effectively used in Australia since the initial release of the myxoma virus in the 1950s, with the cumulative benefit of such methods to Australia’s livestock and farming industries well over $70 billion,” said Dr Strive.

Highlights of the previous rabbit biocontrol pipeline strategy include R&D that delivered Australia’s first rabbit biocontrol agent in 20 years – RHDV1 K5 – released nationally in 2017 through the Centre.

The positive economic and ecological benefits of rabbit biocontrol in Australia underpins the value of ongoing investment in rabbit biocontrol pipelines.

Impacts of rabbits:

  • Directly compete with native wildlife for food and shelter and degrade the land.
  • Selectively graze on native tree and shrub seedlings, preventing regeneration of these species.
  • Reduce crop and pasture yields and spread weeds.
  • In peri-urban and urban areas, rabbits can damage sacred sites, lawns and cemeteries, gardens, golf courses, sportsgrounds and regional parkland reserves.
  • Can be a host to both animal and human parasites and diseases.

Australia’s Rabbit Biocontrol Pipeline Strategy: The key mechanism to enable nationally coordinated and collaborative rabbit biocontrol research and innovation to implement key priority actions under the EPBC Act Threat Abatement Plan for Competition and Land Degradation by Rabbits and relevant industry plans.

RabbitScan: RabbitScan is a free resource for landholders, Landcare groups, community groups, local Councils, professional pest controllers and biosecurity groups. It has been designed by landholders for communities, and it is very easy to use.

Glovebox guide for managing rabbits: Designed to help farmers, land managers and other groups in managing wild rabbits. It covers aspects of management including biology and ecology, damage caused by wild rabbits, control tools and strategies, policy and legislation.

Free rabbit calicivirus testing: Everyone can participate in monitoring the biocontrol viruses that are currently circulating. This website provides instructions how to receive a test kit for rabbits that are found dead and are suspected to have died from a rabbit biocontrol virus. Samples are then sent to the CSIRO and test results reported back to submitters.

PestSmart: Provides key facts as well as management tools to plan and manage rabbit numbers.

About Australia’s Rabbit Biocontrol Pipeline Strategy
Australia’s Rabbit Biocontrol Pipeline Strategy was developed with the input from expert virologists, epidemiologists and ecologists in CSIRO, NSW DPI, VIC Authur Rylah Institute and PIRSA and has been informed by knowledge generated through the Invasive Animals CRC and Centre for Invasive Species Solutions rabbit biocontrol projects.

The strategy was reviewed by the Centre’s rabbit biocontrol steering committee, with members comprised of key investors and end-user stakeholders from DAFF/DCCEEW, MLA, AWI, land managers, a National Farmers Federation representative, and Rabbit Free Australia.
Recommendations from the Strategy include:

  • Optimise the use of existing biocontrol tools available to maximise impact.
  • Select for better versions of existing pathogens, for example by accelerating or directing evolution towards more suitable strains.
  • Identify new pathogens (onshore or offshore) suitable for self-disseminating or augmentative biocontrol.
  • Develop and assess novel technologies for non-lethal biocontrol.
  • Increase underpinning & enabling science and capability.

The story behind Australia’s first rabbit biocontrol agent:

Before myxomatosis decimated feral rabbit populations, it was almost scrapped as a failure – ABC News