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You are here: Home / Associated publications / Belgian Journal of Zoology / Bibliographic References / The impact of sward height, forage quality and competitive conditions on foraging behaviour of free-ranging rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.)

Nele Somers, 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.)


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 fluctuations 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 significantly lower than in spring (April) and autumn (September), apparently leading to a potential forage quality deficit. 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 intraspecific competition, due to significantly 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 significantly different level, comparable with spring crude protein content. In those conditions, significant preference for low vegetation height could no longer be detected. Data suggest that selection for nutritive quality appears when intraspecific 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.

rabbit; forage quality; vegetation height; crude protein
  • ISSN: 0777-6276

ISSN 2295-0451 (online version)
ISSN 0777-6279 (printed version)
impact factor 2015: 0,87.

Prof. Dr. Isa Schön
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Vautierstraat 29
1000 Brussels, Belgium


Annales de la Société malacologique de Belgique
​Annales de la Société royale malacologique et zoologique de Belgique
Annales de la Société Royale Zoologique de Belgique
Belgian Journal of Zoology