Food quality and quantity are more important in explaining foraging of an intermediate-sized mammalian herbivore than predation risk or competition

Martijn J.A. Weterings*, Sander Moonen, Herbert H.T. Prins, Sipke E. van Wieren, Frank van Langevelde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

During times of high activity by predators and competitors, herbivores may be forced to forage in patches of low‐quality food. However, the relative importance in determining where and what herbivores forage still remains unclear, especially for small‐ and intermediate‐sized herbivores. Our objective was to test the relative importance of predator and competitor activity, and forage quality and quantity on the proportion of time spent in a vegetation type and the proportion of time spent foraging by the intermediate‐sized herbivore European hare (Lepus europaeus). We studied red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as a predator species and European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) as a competitor. We investigated the time spent at a location and foraging time of hare using GPS with accelerometers. Forage quality and quantity were analyzed based on hand‐plucked samples of a selection of the locally most important plant species in the diet of hare. Predator activity and competitor activity were investigated using a network of camera traps. Hares spent a higher proportion of time in vegetation types that contained a higher percentage of fibers (i.e., NDF). Besides, hares spent a higher proportion of time in vegetation types that contained relatively low food quantity and quality of forage (i.e., high percentage of fibers) during days that foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were more active. Also during days that rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were more active, hares spent a higher proportion of time foraging in vegetation types that contained a relatively low quality of forage. Although predation risk affected space use and foraging behavior, and competition affected foraging behavior, our study shows that food quality and quantity more strongly affected space use and foraging behavior than predation risk or competition. It seems that we need to reconsider the relative importance of the landscape of food in a world of fear and competition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8419-8432
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume8
Issue number16
Early online date24 Jul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

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