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The Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia is currently supporting:
Funds have been allocated to support attendances at the Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference in Melbourne, should it proceed, by young CSIRO researcher, Emilie Roy-duFresne, and Chair of RFA, Prof Wayne Meyer. Emilie will present a paper on work modelling the distribution and population dynamics of wild European rabbits in Australia. Her presentation will keep rabbits before an important international audience and show the likely benefits of population modelling, which may be of use to other pest species as well. RFA is pleased to continue supporting capacity building among emerging rabbit researchers. Wayne’s attendance will enable the Foundation to assess themes and issues of importance to the Foundation, and strengthen relationships with key researchers and research institutions.
Dr Stephen Frankenberg of the University of Melbourne will lead this frontier, ‘blue-sky’, research to see if it is possible to modify a specific rabbit gene (e.g. one related to fertility) in a way that is self-propagating, thus becoming predominant throughout the population. Gene-drive technology has been used in insects but its wider application remains to be tested through projects like this. Should the technique be effective, there will be numerous ethical and social questions to work through before it is applied. This work will help RFA to better understand the prospects of the technology and the complex issues around it.
The University of Melbourne research conforms with biosecurity standards for gene-drive research and is a small first step to what could eventually be a major tool in wild rabbit control. The project has two parts, firstly to develop the technology in zebrafish (a species often used for such work), including measures to enable gene-drive resistance in non-target populations, then moving to proof-of-principle trials with rabbit stem-cells.
Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia funding will support Neil Ross from the University of NSW to conduct field work in semi-arid areas of NSW and SA to monitor growth within and outside of long-term rabbit exclosures, to better understand the impact of rabbits and the benefits of rabbit control for plant communities. Some rabbit grazing impacts can be generations in the making. By looking at old exclosures, it is hoped to detect any long term changes in plant communities.
Dr Katherine Moseby (University of NSW) will use monitoring equipment in burrows and on GPS collars to explore how heatwaves affect the behaviour and survival of rabbits, bilbies and bettongs at sites in arid areas of NSW and SA. Foundation funds will assist with the purchase of monitoring devices. The results will indicate how different species may fare under a warming climate and whether that might influence future rabbit control options.