Short communication. The role of rabbit density and the diversity of weeds in the development of cover crops in olive groves
Cover crops are an effective means to reduce soil erosion and to provide food and shelter for wildlife. However, in areas of intensive farming, which are characterised by the scarcity of weed communities, wild herbivores may focus their grazing on cover crops, which could make their implementation difficult. In this work, we test whether rabbit grazing can prevent the growth of herbaceous cover crops in olive groves in Southern Spain in addition to assessing the role of rabbit abundance and diversity of weeds in the development of cover crops. This question has been addressed by sowing Bromus rubens between the rows of five olive groves in Cordoba province (Spain). We then monitored the surface covered by B. rubens, along with both diversity of weed communities and rabbit abundance. Two rabbit exclusion areas were also placed in each olive grove in order to assess the impact of rabbits on the development of cover crops. Our results showed that the surface occupied by B. rubens was considerably higher in the rabbit exclusion areas (mean 56.8 ± 5.65 %) than in those areas in which they could feed (mean 35.6 ± 4.32 %). The coverage occupied by cover crops was higher in areas with lower rabbit density, although this relationship was modulated by the weed diversity index, since in areas with the same rabbit abundance the coverage was higher in those with a richer weed community. These findings suggest that high rabbit abundances can prevent the development of herbaceous cover crops in olive groves, particularly in areas in which alternative food resources (measured as weed diversity) are scarce.
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