Those 'Rascally' Rabbits

Abstract

As society has become increasingly wary of conventional chemical pest control methods, interest has grown in the use of biological control (biocontrol) approaches using microorganisms, insects, or diseases for pest management. These biocontrol methods are often considered to be more specific for the pest organisms and, thus, safer for the environment. This case considers the dilemma faced by New Zealand's Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment whether to recommend introduction of the biocontrol virus, myxomatosis, into wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cunkulus) populations to reduce their numbers and mitigate adverse effects on grazing lands and rural landscapes. The decision whether to import mytomatosis was controversial with many viewpoints ranging from defining the role that the rabbits played in landscape degradation to debating the effectiveness of this particular biocontrol agent. The case was developed for use in introductory biology, ecology, or pest management courses and can serve to fink discussions of biology to societal perceptions, norms, and expectations. It also helps to introduce an international perspective into class discussions. The case serves as a basis for introducing principles of population biology and epidemiology. Students also gain an appreciation from the case for the importance of improved communications and understanding between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors of a society.

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