Status: Completed

Start date: 1 July 2018

Completion date: 30 June 2022

Project code: P01-B-002

Species: European rabbits

Download project report (PDF, 3.42 MB)


Although rabbits cause significant agricultural, environmental, ecological and social damage in Australia, we have options to control them with viruses. Accordingly, to help inform a long-term plan for rabbit biocontrol research and innovation, the project team investigated which strains of RHDV 1 and 2 (rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus strains) are circulating where, when and why. The project also sought to work out whether combining strains or using them in sequence could maximise results.

Key achievements


  • Analysis and recommendations for RHDV2.
  • Scientific publications on pathogen analysis. serological study and population monitoring of wild rabbit populations.


  • Greater understanding of RHDV2, its role, distribution and prevalence in the landscape and its in-suitability as a biocontrol.
  • Demonstrated importance of rabbit populations monitoring sites.


  • Contribution to increased effectiveness of ongoing rabbit biocontrol in Australia through improved data and understanding of biological
    control agents in European rabbits in Australia.
  • Contribution to the potential maintenance of lower rabbit impact costs through improved best management practice for existing rabbit biocontrol
    Increased effectiveness of resource allocation for RD&E associated with rabbit biocontrol.
  • Contribution to improved environmental outcomes in the future through better management of wild rabbits.
  • Contribution to maintained social license to operate for invasive species managers using RHDV through more effective use of tactical
  • Increased scientific knowledge and research capacity associated with the biological control of wild rabbits.

Project team

Dr Tanja Strive

Project Lead

Dr Robyn Hall


Ms Nina Huang


Dr Sahra McFetridge


Dr Kandarp Patel


Dr Pat Taggart


Dr Brad Page


Dr Carlo Pacioni


Dr Dave Ramsey


Ridma Jayasinghe


Dr Bhumi Savaliya


Project partners

The project received funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Project updates

February 2021

Community submission of rabbit samples continues to deliver valuable insights into the changing epidemiology of the various circulating virus strains in Australia. Derivatives of the original Australian RHDV2 continues to be dominant in WA, while various recombinant RHDV2 variants are dominant throughout the Eastern states.
Analysis of sequence data provided strong evidence of RHDV1 activity inhibition as a result of initial RHDV2 spread, strengthening previous evidence derived from serological data that RHDV2 suppressed the impact of RHDV1-K5 when it was released in 2017.

August 2020

RHDV2 and its recombinants continue to be epidemiologically dominant in the Australian landscape, however we are seeing growing evidence of some local persistence and spread of RHDV1-K5 in Western Australia and Tasmania, and the detection of an RHDV1 field strain demonstrates that this original virus variant has not yet become completely extinct.
RHDV2 causes virus outbreaks and transmission to occur approximately one season earlier than RHDV1. The ability to infect younger rabbits may be a key competitive advantage for RHDV2 in the field, consequently altering the epidemiology of the virus in wild populations of rabbits.

February 2020

While RHDV2 remains the dominant virus circulating in the field in all areas of Australia, several cases of RHDV1 K5 have been detected one location that were not associated with a targeted release. These results suggest that RHDV1 K5 may have become established in wild rabbit populations in some locations. Further monitoring will be carried out through the project to better understand if this has occurred more widely or remains the exception.
CSIRO has developed a new assay for high throughput screening of recombinant caliciviruses. This assay has now been adopted into the routine testing protocols for RabbitScan and has retrospectively been applied to all positive calicivirus samples to confirm the identity of each sample.
A pilot study investigating the suitability of using carrion feeding flies as a better broad scale tool to monitor disease activity at a landscape scale is nearing completion of its first year. Preliminary analysis of the first nine months of samples (March 2019 to January 2020) indicate that RHDV activity can indeed be detected in fly samples, but the sensitivity of this method remains unclear at this stage. The aim is to continue this study for an additional 12 months to get a better understanding of this tool to monitor RHDV activity at a wider scale.

August 2019

Ongoing testing of tissue from deceased rabbits shows RHDV2 remains the dominant rabbit calicivirus circulating in Australia, with K5 detected at release sites. A new screening method is being implemented to detect recombinant viruses.
Rabbit monitoring at selected intensive sites in TAS, ACT, WA, NSW and SA is ongoing or ramping up shortly, with a minimum bi-annual sampling taking place. In addition, monitoring and sampling of the rabbit population at the Turretfield research site continues as part of this project, building on extensive knowledge of this wild rabbit population and adding these ongoing monitoring results to the long-term RHDV and myxoma disease database at this site.
A paper on optimising and validating molecular testing of carrion flies for rabbit calicivirus detection, including associated protocols was published. This provided the basis for a nationwide year-long pilot study now underway.

February 2019

Intensive rabbit monitoring sites have been established with monitoring well underway at sites in South Australia and the ACT, and due to commence at other sites in Autumn 2019. Sites in South Australia are reporting the lowest abundance of rabbits in more than 20 years, indicating that circulating strains of RHDV are suppressing rabbit numbers.

The methods for sampling, processing and analysing carrion feeding flies for the presence of RHDV have been developed and validated. A national fly monitoring network at over 30 sites across Australia has been established and fortnightly sampling has commenced.

Analysis of samples from dead rabbits submitted directly to CSIRO and through RabbitScan is ongoing – over 1600 samples have been analysed since the beginning of the previous IA-CRC project RHD Boost Rollout, and ~1000 since the K5 release).

Scientific publications & reports

Cox TE, Ramsey D S, Sawyers E, Campbell S, Matthews J and Elsworth P (2019) The impact of RHDV-K5 on rabbit populations in Australia: an evaluation of citizen science surveys to monitor rabbit abundance Scientific reports 9(1), 1-11.

Elfekih S, Metcalfe S, Walsh T, Cox T and Strive T (2021) Genomic insights into a population of introduced European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus in Australia and the development of genetic resistance to Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease virus (RHDV) Transboundary and Emerging Diseases Accepted Author Manuscript.

Hall RN, Huang N, Roberts J and Strive T (2019) Carrion flies as sentinels for monitoring lagovirus activity in Australia Transboundary and emerging diseases 66(5), 2025-2032.

Hall RN, Trought K, Strive T, Duckworth JA and Jenckel M (2024) First Detection and Circulation of RHDV2 in New Zealand. Viruses 16(4), 519.

Jenckel M, Hall R and Strive T (2022) Pathogen profiling of Australian rabbits by metatranscriptomic sequencing Transboundary and emerging diseases 69e2629e2640.

Kerr P, Hall RN and Strive T (2021) Viruses for landscape-scale therapy: Biological control of rabbits in Australia. In ‘Viruses as Therapeutics: Methods in Molecular Biology’ (editor Lucas AR). Humana, New York, NY.\_1.

Mahar JE, Jenckel M, Huang N, Smertina E, Holmes EC, Strive T and Hall R (2021) (submitted) Frequent intergenotypic recombination between the two non-structural genes is a major driver of epidemiological fitness in calicivirus. (

Pacioni C, Hall RN, Strive T, Ramsey DSL, Gilland M and Vaughan TG (2022) Comparative epidemiology of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus strains from viral sequence data Viruses 15(1), 21.

Peng NYG, Hall RN, Huang N, West P, Cox TE, Mahar JE, Mason H, Campbell S, O’Connor T, Read AJ et al (2023) Utilizing Molecular Epidemiology and Citizen Science for the Surveillance of Lagoviruses in Australia Viruses 15(12), 2348.

Ramsey D, Cox T, Strive T, Forsyth D, Stuart I, Hall R, Elsworth P and Campbell S (2019) Emerging RHDV2 suppresses the impact of endemic and novel strains of RHDV on wild rabbit populations Journal of Applied Ecology 57(3), 630-641.

Strive T, Piper M, Huang N, Mourant R, Kovaliski J, Capucci L, Cox T and Smith I (2020) Retrospective serological analysis reveals presence of the emerging lagovirus RHDV2 in Australia in wild rabbits at least five months prior to its first detection Transboundary and Emerging Diseases 67(2), 822-833.

Strive T and Cox TE (2019) Lethal biological control of rabbits-the most powerful tools for landscape-scale mitigation of rabbit impacts in Australia Australian Zoologist 40(1), 118-128.

Taggart PL, Hall RN, Cox TE, Kovaliski J, McLeod SR and Strive T (2022) Changes in virus transmission dynamics following the emergence of RHDV2 shed light on its competitive advantage over previously circulating variants Transboundary and Emerging Diseases 69, 1118-1130.