Rabbits are an introduced species that threaten ecological, agricultural and forestry assets in Australia and New Zealand.
Despite decades of control effort, including the release of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV), rabbits remain a major pest in Australasia.
Because eradication of rabbits is not possible, effective management of the rabbit problem requires sustained control, using current best practice application of multiple control tools.
Decision Support Systems (DSS) can help land managers and advisory staff (such as Local Land Service staff) with decisions of when, where and how to manage rabbits, guided by best practice, using interactive tools that provide information, model analysis and decision guides. DSS need to be fit for purpose to ensure their relevance, and use software that is accurate, easy to use, and adaptable, so that new information can be easily incorporated.
The Invasive Animals CRC in collaboration with Landcare Research NZ is developing two DSS to support rabbit management under a participatory approach that focuses on the needs of stakeholders, who are involved at all stages of the development process. The DSS are:
- Conservation land DSS -to support decisions under limited funding allocation for rabbit management in public lands of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
- Production land DSS – a learning tool that illustrates the cost-benefits of alternative control protocols on wool production farms in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales (NSW), Australia.
These DSS have been developed for specific end-users, but they are provided as open-source tools so they can be adapted to similar situations elsewhere.
DSSs are important tools that can support decision making, knowledge management, collaboration and learning. However, effective rabbit management also depends on additional social, economic, and legislative factors. For example, community involvement to carry out coordinated landscape-level control programs is more effective than localised efforts; legislation encourages individuals to manage rabbits on their properties; training provides technical experience on how to carry out control. Consideration of these additional factors, not supported by DSS, is important in ensuring the success of a program.
We therefore propose that projects aimed at supporting rabbit management (including DSS development projects) should use an outcomes-based approach for project management and evaluation commonly known as ‘Theory of Change’. This approach guides projects to focus on what difference they are making (outcomes) rather than what they are doing (outputs), and paints a big picture of where the project’s activities and outputs fit to achieve these outcomes. For rabbit management to be effective we need to keep in mind that the ultimate outcomes are protecting and enhancing environmental, social and economic assets, not just killing rabbits.