, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 395-398
Date: 05 Oct 2010

Responses of naïve and experienced European rabbits to predator odour

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The response of prey species to predator scent has been investigated in many mammalian species; however, there is little information about the responses of European wild rabbits at the population level. Therefore, we conducted a simple experiment to investigate the behavioural response of a rabbit population to native predator cues in the wild. We compared the response to the scent of a predator (red fox) in a wild rabbit population bred in semi-natural conditions and naïve to terrestrial predators with the response of a population in a similar environment where terrestrial predators were present. The response to predators was based on rabbit abundance, inferred from pellet counts and measured by the defecation rate per day (DRD). Our results indicate that rabbits responded to the odour of fox faeces in the treatment warrens, resulting in a lower DRD. The main anti-predator behaviour observed was spatial avoidance (warren abandonment), which seemed to be more accentuated for rabbits who had not previously had contact with foxes in the plot where terrestrial predators were excluded. In both the fenced and the unfenced plot, the differences in the effect of the predator odour between the control and treatment warrens disappeared after cessation of treatment, suggesting a flexible and adaptive behaviour of rabbits to predator cues.

Communicated by C. Gortázar