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The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.)

Nele Somers (UGent) , Tanja Milotic (UGent) and Maurice Hoffmann (UGent)
(2012) BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY. 142(1). p.74-85
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Abstract
The habitat choice of the small hindgut fermenter, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.), was studied in relation to sward height, forage quality, population size fuctuations and spatial distribution of burrows in a temperate grassland. In a multi-phase differential clipping experiment with alternating short and tall vegetation strips, rabbits tended to graze near the closest burrows in situations of equal vegetation heights, while a clear preference for short swards was found during summer (July). In this period, general crude protein content was signifcantly lower than in spring (April) and autumn (September), apparently leading to a potential forage quality defcit. The summer behavioural pattern with short sward preference coincided with the relatively higher crude protein content of short swards as compared to tall swards in this period, and with higher intraspecifc competition, due to signifcantly larger numbers of animals present in summer. In autumn, rabbit densities decreased, while crude protein content of both short and tall vegetation increased to a higher, though not signifcantly different level, comparable with spring crude protein content. In those conditions, signifcant preference for low vegetation height could no longer be detected. Data suggest that selection for nutritive quality appears when intraspecifc competition is high and nutritive quality remains under a certain threshold value. When, in autumn, competition decreases and nutritive quality increases again, short sward preference disappears. We conclude that short sward preference is primarily caused by the better forage quality of re-growth in periods of forage quality limitation, while this preference disappears when forage quality limitation no longer occurs.
Keywords
rabbit, forage quality, crude protein, vegetation height, FUNCTIONAL-RESPONSE, NUTRITIVE-VALUE, FOOD QUALITY, HERBIVORES, ENVIRONMENT, RISK, PRODUCTIVITY, PREDATION, ABUNDANCE, PATTERNS

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Citation

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MLA
Somers, Nele, et al. “The Impact of Sward Height, Forage Quality and Competitive Conditions on Foraging Behaviour of Free-Ranging Rabbits (Oryctolagus Cuniculus L.).” BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY, vol. 142, no. 1, 2012, pp. 74–85.
APA
Somers, N., Milotic, T., & Hoffmann, M. (2012). The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.). BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY, 142(1), 74–85.
Chicago author-date
Somers, Nele, Tanja Milotic, and Maurice Hoffmann. 2012. “The Impact of Sward Height, Forage Quality and Competitive Conditions on Foraging Behaviour of Free-Ranging Rabbits (Oryctolagus Cuniculus L.).” BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY 142 (1): 74–85.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Somers, Nele, Tanja Milotic, and Maurice Hoffmann. 2012. “The Impact of Sward Height, Forage Quality and Competitive Conditions on Foraging Behaviour of Free-Ranging Rabbits (Oryctolagus Cuniculus L.).” BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY 142 (1): 74–85.
Vancouver
1.
Somers N, Milotic T, Hoffmann M. The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.). BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY. 2012;142(1):74–85.
IEEE
[1]
N. Somers, T. Milotic, and M. Hoffmann, “The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.),” BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY, vol. 142, no. 1, pp. 74–85, 2012.
@article{2091251,
  abstract     = {{The habitat choice of the small hindgut fermenter, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.), was studied in relation to sward height, forage quality, population size fuctuations and spatial distribution of burrows in a temperate grassland. In a multi-phase differential clipping experiment with alternating short and tall vegetation strips, rabbits tended to graze near the closest burrows in situations of equal vegetation heights, while a clear preference for short swards was found during summer (July). In this period, general crude protein content was signifcantly lower than in spring (April) and autumn (September), apparently leading to a potential forage quality defcit. The summer behavioural pattern with short sward preference coincided with the relatively higher crude protein content of short swards as compared to tall swards in this period, and with higher intraspecifc competition, due to signifcantly larger numbers of animals present in summer. In autumn, rabbit densities decreased, while crude protein content of both short and tall vegetation increased to a higher, though not signifcantly different level, comparable with spring crude protein content. In those conditions, signifcant preference for low vegetation height could no longer be detected. Data suggest that selection for nutritive quality appears when intraspecifc competition is high and nutritive quality remains under a certain threshold value. When, in autumn, competition decreases and nutritive quality increases again, short sward preference disappears. We conclude that short sward preference is primarily caused by the better forage quality of re-growth in periods of forage quality limitation, while this preference disappears when forage quality limitation no longer occurs.}},
  author       = {{Somers, Nele and Milotic, Tanja and Hoffmann, Maurice}},
  issn         = {{0777-6276}},
  journal      = {{BELGIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY}},
  keywords     = {{rabbit,forage quality,crude protein,vegetation height,FUNCTIONAL-RESPONSE,NUTRITIVE-VALUE,FOOD QUALITY,HERBIVORES,ENVIRONMENT,RISK,PRODUCTIVITY,PREDATION,ABUNDANCE,PATTERNS}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{1}},
  pages        = {{74--85}},
  title        = {{The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.)}},
  volume       = {{142}},
  year         = {{2012}},
}

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