, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 245-254

Social rank, fecundity and lifetime reproductive success in wild European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

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Wild European rabbits of both sexes have separate linear rank orders, which are established and maintained by intensive fights. This paper presents data from a 14-year study (1987–2000) on the population physiology and behavioural ecology of wild rabbits living in a 22,000 m2 enclosure and focuses on the relationship between social rank and reproduction in females. Group composition, social ranks, fecundity and reproductive success were known for all females (n=197) from the outset of their first reproductive season at an age of about 300 days until their death. The annual reproductive success of females was influenced to a large extent by their social rank. This depended on two effects of about equal strength: a higher fecundity of high-ranking females and a lower mortality of their offspring between birth and adulthood. The lifetime reproductive success of the females varied greatly. Only about 50% of all females had any reproductive success (range: on to nine adult offspring). The social rank achieved by the females during their first reproductive season substantially influenced their lifetime reproductive success: The mean reproductive lifespan and lifetime fitness of high-ranking females (ranks 1 and 2) was about 60% greater than that of lower-ranking females, although many of the latter also gained dominant positions in subsequent years.

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