Data from: Infrastructure features outperform environmental variables explaining rabbit abundance around motorways
Planillo, Aimara; Malo, Juan E. (2018), Data from: Infrastructure features outperform environmental variables explaining rabbit abundance around motorways, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.c3tg3
Human disturbance is widespread across landscapes in the form of roads that alter wildlife populations. Knowing which road features are responsible for the species response and their relevance in comparison with environmental variables will provide useful information for effective conservation measures. We sampled relative abundance of European rabbits, a very widespread species, in motorway verges at regional scale, in an area with large variability in environmental and infrastructure conditions. Environmental variables included vegetation structure, plant productivity, distance to water sources, and altitude. Infrastructure characteristics were the type of vegetation in verges, verge width, traffic volume, and the presence of embankments. We performed a variance partitioning analysis to determine the relative importance of two sets of variables on rabbit abundance. Additionally, we identified the most important variables and their effects model averaging after model selection by AICc on hypothesis-based models. As a group, infrastructure features explained four times more variability in rabbit abundance than environmental variables, being the effects of the former critical in motorway stretches located in altered landscapes with no available habitat for rabbits, such as agricultural fields. Model selection and Akaike weights showed that verge width and traffic volume are the most important variables explaining rabbit abundance index, with positive and negative effects, respectively. In the light of these results, the response of species to the infrastructure can be modulated through the modification of motorway features, being some of them manageable in the design phase. The identification of such features leads to suggestions for improvement through low-cost corrective measures and conservation plans. As a general indication, keeping motorway verges less than 10 m wide will prevent high densities of rabbits and avoid the unwanted effects that rabbit populations can generate in some areas.