, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 71-78
Date: 02 Aug 2007

Feeding responses of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) to different wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) densities: a regional approach

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Abstract

We investigate the feeding responses of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) at a regional scale to different densities of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in central–southern Spain. Rabbit abundance indices were obtained in 86 localities during summer 2002. The diet of the fox was studied by analysis of 114 scats collected in 47 of these localities. The feeding response of the fox was examined by a representation of the dry weight percent of rabbit in the diet as a function of the abundance of rabbits; this used data only from those localities where at least 3 scats were collected (70 fox scats from 18 localities). We evaluated the relationship between rabbit abundance and the diversity of the diet of the fox. The feeding patterns of red foxes approximated to Holling’s type III functional response, typical of opportunistic predators. There was a negative relationship between the diversity of the fox’s diet and the abundance of rabbits. Therefore, the fox apparently behaves as a facultative predator, feeding on rabbits when they are abundant and shifting to other prey (and hence a more diverse diet) when rabbits are scarce. These findings are the first step towards understanding the potential role of red foxes in regulating rabbit populations in central–southern Spain.

Communicated by W. Lutz