Mediterranean xero-halophytic meadows are a priority habitat for conservation in the European Union. In the Camargue (Rhône delta, south of France), these meadows are heavily colonized by Phillyrea angustifolia shrub. In order to evaluate the respective roles of livestock and rabbits in Phillyrea control, we recorded and aged Phillyrea individuals in meadows subjected to 3 different treatments: grazing by rabbit plus traditional extensive grazing by cattle and horses from the beginning of the 1970s, grazing by rabbit only, and grazing by rabbit only with their temporary elimination in 1987. We found little difference in either the age distribution or the density of Phillyrea individuals between meadows grazed and ungrazed by domestic herbivores. In meadows where rabbits were temporarily eliminated we recorded a strong increase in the number of Phillyrea individuals from the time of this exclusion onwards. In addition, we aged Phillyrea shrubs in 35-y-old experimental plots grazed by cattle, horses, and rabbits, grazed by rabbits only, or ungrazed by livestock or rabbits. We found 90% of Phillyrea individuals in the plots ungrazed by rabbits. Thus, the current decline of rabbit populations appears to be a new threat for Mediterranean xero-halophytic meadows.
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Vol. 18 • No. 1