Areas of interest


Geographical area
Twelve Cycladic islets
2.500 €

The challenge

The Aegean Sea and the Cycladic archipelago constitute a crucial part of the Mediterranean biodiversity hotspot. These areas are renowned for their rich array of plant and animal life, with many species found nowhere else on Earth. However, the presence of invasive species, such as rabbits, on small islets poses a significant threat to the delicate balance of their ecosystems: they consume plants that are often endemic to the region, leading to the decline and even extinction of these species. This disruption cascades through the ecosystem, affecting other organisms that depend on these plants for food and habitat.

The solution

Collaborating with the University of Michigan to closely investigate and monitor the effects of invasive rabbits on the biodiversity of Cycladic islets is an excellent approach to tackling this problem: Field research and monitoring, data collection and analysis, scientific findings and data-driven insights are critical to inform policy decisions and management plans at local, regional, and national level.

Project’s deliverables

The University of Michigan team’s research across twelve islands in the Cyclades, comparing ecological characteristics from grazed islands, ungrazed islands, and post-rabbit islands, provides valuable insights into the impacts of invasive rabbits and the potential for island recovery. Through comprehensive data collection and analysis, the research team gained insights into the long-term ecological effects of invasive rabbits on Cycladic islands.

Preliminary research results

The University of Michigan team’s discovery of rabbits being released on uninhabited Cycladic islands for hunting purposes highlights a concerning human-induced threat to these ecosystems. The preliminary data indicating devastating impacts on island vegetation, particularly small herbaceous and annual plant species, underscores the urgent need for intervention to prevent further degradation. The most alarming finding from the research is the detrimental effect of rabbits’ digging habits on island soil. The loosening of soil by rabbit burrowing leads to significant wind erosion, exacerbating desertification processes and compromising the long-term resilience of island ecosystems. Furthermore, the observation that islands where rabbit populations have died out are in even worse condition than islands currently occupied by rabbits is particularly alarming. This suggests a dire situation where the loss of soil integrity due to rabbit activity has severely impaired the islands’ ability to recover. It highlights the critical importance of proactive management to prevent irreversible damage to island ecosystems. In light of these findings, the research strongly advocates for the removal of rabbits from uninhabited Cycladic islands as soon as possible to mitigate further harm. Preventing permanent damage to soil resources is crucial for preserving the long-term ecological integrity of these fragile island environments. Urgent action is needed to halt the progression of desertification and facilitate the recovery of impacted islands, emphasizing the importance of conservation efforts to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem function in the Aegean Sea and the Cycladic archipelago.

Core research team of the project

Johannes Foufopoulos, Associate Professor, School of Natural Resources; and Environment, University of Michigan
Angelina Kossoff, Master’s degree student at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability