Adult rabbits in stable populations are known to have defined territories and little contact with adults in other warren systems. Work conducted using proximity loggers on adult rabbits showed that, even within the same warren system, contact between adults isn't uniform, which indicatives a hierarchy within warrens. No research on contact rates between adults and kittens has been undertaken. It's unlikely that kittens are subject to the same hierarchical limitations as adults, and as such are potentially exposed to all adults in the warren. Anecdotal evidence suggests that kittens interact with adults in different warren systems during their dispersal stage as they search for a new warren for their adult life.

Understanding the interactions between adults and kittens is important from an epidemiological viewpoint. RHDV outbreaks occur most often in spring, when kittens are most often on the ground. Kittens are also suspected of being the main vectors for the dispersal of the benign calicivirus RCV-A1. RCV-A1 confers partial temporal protection to infection with RHDV and appears to severely limit the success of RHDV where it occurs.

If adult contact both between and within warren systems is limited, it's unlikely that adult rabbits play a significant role in the contact-transmission of RCV-A1, or in the transmission of RHDV through contaminated faeces. It's possible that the free rein that kittens are reported to experience contributes to the spread of both viruses.

Location: UQ Gatton campus, with possible fieldwork in several other Queensland locations

Expected outcomes: the project aims to determine the contact rates between kittens and adults, both within the kitten’s birth warren and between warren systems. An understanding of this behaviour may lead to insights into what role, if any, kittens play in the transmission of both RCV-A1 and potentially RHDV

Supervisors: D Luke Leung, Dr Tarnya Cox

Before you apply: contact the primary supervisor for more details

Project start subject to: UQ animal ethics approval

Project members