Current Research

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Research Priorities

Current Research

The Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia is currently supporting:

Flies as RHDV monitors

RFA has funded a novel project to help track the spread of rabbit viruses across Australia.

It is now accepted that flies are a vector for the transmission of RHDV, thanks in part to former research by Amy Ianella which was also supported by RFA. Research has also shown that flies could be used as a proxy to measure the spread of the virus within rabbit populations.

It is often difficult to source rabbit carcasses to detect the presence of RHDV, especially in remote locations, but flies may be relatively easily trapped and frozen for storage. Hence the interest in engaging flies to assist in virus tracking, although there is currently no means to efficiently sample flies for RHD viruses.

That is where the RFA ‘Monitoring RHDV in flies’ project comes in. Dr Adam Croxford, at the University of Adelaide, will use RFA and PIRSA funding to try and develop a method for optimum extraction of RHDV viral RNA from bulk samples of flies. If successful, the technique may then be applied to process fly samples collected from regional and remote areas. A better sampling option will make it much easier to monitor and understand the spread and interactions between various forms of RHDV, resulting in better rabbit control programs.

For more information on the project proposal, see ‘Monitoring RHDV in flies’.

90 Years & Still Changing – Koonamore Reserve

The Koonamore vegetation monitoring reserve shows rabbit control is essential for the regeneration of many tree and shrub seedlings – and a donation from RFA is helping with re-fencing.

Thanks to funding support from RFA and others, Koonamore – the longest running vegetation monitoring project in Australia – has been able to upgrade part of the reserve’s rabbit-proof boundary fencing. It helps ensure the reserve continues to provide invaluable evidence about the ecology of semi-arid Australia.

Officially titled the TGB Osborn Vegetation Reserve, Koonamore Station, the 4km square reserve is managed by the University of Adelaide and an enthusiastic team of volunteers, lecturers past and present, and students. The site is used by students and researchers from both Adelaide and Flinders universities.

For more information, see ’90 Years of Change. The TGB Osborn Vegetation Reserve, Koonamore’.

Volunteers at work; Koonamore Reserve

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Field research is an important part of research into rabbit control.

Genomics

Investigating resistance to RHD. A PhD scholarship to determine the extent to which genetics affect the ability of rabbits to resist and survive infection by the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHD). By mapping out the family trees of rabbits in the field it will be possible to tell if genetics are behind an apparent increase in resistance, or whether it is more due to seasonal factors like the abundance of insect vectors and the innate resistance of very young rabbits (who, if infected, retain that immunity for life). If it is the latter, then the planned release of RHD may be better timed for increased virulence. For some early results see the project report or media article.

RHD K5 Operations Working Group

RHD Boost. The Chair of RFA is chairing the Operations Working Group in support of research to boost the impact of RHD, especially in cooler, wetter regions of Australia, through the release of a more virulent strain. The project has been evaluating different strains and has identified a South Korean variant (K5) as being most prospective. The Working Group brings key stakeholders together to assist in managing the planned release of the K5 variant across Australia’s rabbit infested lands.

Enhancing RHDV effectiveness.

RHD has been less effective in controlling rabbits in the wetter, cooler parts of southern Australia than in the arid inland. One reason appears to be that pre-existing related caliciviruses, collectively referred to as RCV-A1, are providing some protection against RHDV. Their role in limiting the impact of RHDV is currently being investigated by an Invasive Animals CRC project being conducted by CSIRO.
The Foundation is also in discussion with researchers and other potential funders to explore opportunities for new projects into:
  • RHD vectors – better understanding the role different insects play in transmitting RHD.
  • Bio-prospecting – investigating the potential for greater virulence from biological control agents like internal parasites, especially in conjunction with viruses such as RHD.
  • The impact of rabbits on the post-bushfire regeneration of native vegetation.