Experimental manipulation of predation risk and food quality: effect on grazing behaviour in a central-place foraging herbivore

E.S. Bakker, R.C. Reiffers, H. Olff, J.M. Gleichman

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94 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract The relative importance of predation risk and food quality on spatial grazing pressure and activity patterns was tested in a central-place foraging herbivore: the European rabbit. Rabbits grazed less with increasing distance from their burrows into adjacent grassland, thereby creating a gradient of increasing vegetation height and plant biomass and decreasing plant nutrient concentration. When nitrogen concentration was experimentally increased by 150% through fertilizing and mowing, rabbits visited these plots four times more frequently than the untreated control plots. Addition of predator scent (mink pellets) did not result in different patch use by rabbits. The combined addition of fertilizer and mink pellets had the same effect as addition of fertilizer alone. However, the mink pellets changed the temporal activity pattern of rabbits as measured with infrared detectors. Rabbits were predominantly nocturnal but shifted their activities to the day when mink pellets were added, resulting in equal activities during night and day. We conclude that rabbits are sensitive to perceived predation risk, but that this does not influence their spatial grazing pressure. A selection for the highest food quality on the other hand can explain the observed natural rabbit grazing gradient. Food quality was highest close to the burrows, therefore rabbits selecting for high quality food should forage most intensely close to the burrows and only move further away for higher quality items or when the vegetation close to their burrows is depleted. Through intensive grazing close to the burrows rabbits facilitated for themselves either through stimulating fresh protein rich re-growth or the return of nutrients through faeces or both. This is in contrast with central-place foraging theory where intense feeding close to the burrow is assumed to lead to reduced food resources. Keywords Facilitation - Oryctolagus cuniculus - Odour - Plant nitrogen - Rabbit
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • rabbits oryctolagus-cuniculus
  • functional-response
  • ochotona-princeps
  • microhabitat use
  • european rabbit
  • barnacle geese
  • wild rabbits
  • salt-marsh
  • voles
  • facilitation


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