Biologists have found that five females from Europe are behind the invasion of rabbits in Australia

(ORDO NEWS) — The rabbit population in Australia most likely descended from a couple of dozen individuals.

Australia has been suffering from the invasion of a huge mass of rabbits for more than a hundred years. For Australia, it is an invasive species that threatens hundreds of plants and the ecosystem as a whole, since there are not enough effective predators on this continent.

At different times, the government even tried to turn to the army to fight these animals. According to historical records, the rabbit expansion began with a shipment of animals that arrived for one Thomas Austin at Barwon Park, southwest of present-day Melbourne, in 1859. His brother caught them near Baltonsborough in the southwest of England.

Joel Alves, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Oxford, and his colleagues wanted to find out the exact origin of these rabbits.

They analyzed the genetic data of 179 wild rabbits caught in Australia and New Zealand, France and the UK, as well as 8 domestic rabbits of different breeds.

They found that most rabbits on the Australian mainland were genetically similar, with mixed wild and domestic ancestry.

Australian rabbits also shared more rare alleles with rabbits from southwest England than with rabbits from other parts of the United Kingdom, suggesting that they originated from Baltonsborough.

By looking at the mitochondrial DNA that is inherited from the mother, the researchers concluded that most Australian rabbits are descended from about five females imported from Europe.

Scientists note that the presence of wild rabbits among the founders of the population was especially important for the successful invasion of the continent, since they are more likely to run away from danger and dig holes.

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