English people who voluntarily settled in Australia wanted to bring a bit of their homeland with them. They had no clue what damage that could do to a continent that had been isolated for millions of years. In 1859, Thomas Austin received a Christmas gift in a shipment from his brother: two dozen rabbits. They were not the first British rabbits to be shipped to Australia by a long shot. But they were the ones who multiplied until Australia was overrun by a billion rabbits that ate every plant in sight and crowded out native animals.
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Even though rabbits had been transferred to Australia at least 90 times before Austin’s arrived, it was assumed that his rabbits were the ones that became the invasive hoard. That assumption was due to the timing and the estimated epicenter of the catastrophe. But now there is genetic proof. Researchers studied the genes of 187 rabbits caught between 1865 and 2018, in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Great Britain, and France. The results of the study determined that the rabbits of Australia were indeed descended from just five female rabbits on Austin’s property. While Australia’s rabbits are down to around 200 million today, they still cause enormous damage to the ecosystem and agriculture alike. Read about the study of the invasive rabbits of Australia at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: CSIRO)