, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 157–167 | Cite as

Experimental manipulation of predation risk and food quality: effect on grazing behaviour in a central-place foraging herbivore

  • E. S. Bakker
  • R. C. Reiffers
  • H. Olff
  • J. M. Gleichman
Behavioural Ecology


The relative importance of predation risk and food quality on spatial grazing pressure and activity patterns was tested in a central-place foraging herbivore: the European rabbit. Rabbits grazed less with increasing distance from their burrows into adjacent grassland, thereby creating a gradient of increasing vegetation height and plant biomass and decreasing plant nutrient concentration. When nitrogen concentration was experimentally increased by 150% through fertilizing and mowing, rabbits visited these plots four times more frequently than the untreated control plots. Addition of predator scent (mink pellets) did not result in different patch use by rabbits. The combined addition of fertilizer and mink pellets had the same effect as addition of fertilizer alone. However, the mink pellets changed the temporal activity pattern of rabbits as measured with infrared detectors. Rabbits were predominantly nocturnal but shifted their activities to the day when mink pellets were added, resulting in equal activities during night and day. We conclude that rabbits are sensitive to perceived predation risk, but that this does not influence their spatial grazing pressure. A selection for the highest food quality on the other hand can explain the observed natural rabbit grazing gradient. Food quality was highest close to the burrows, therefore rabbits selecting for high quality food should forage most intensely close to the burrows and only move further away for higher quality items or when the vegetation close to their burrows is depleted. Through intensive grazing close to the burrows rabbits facilitated for themselves either through stimulating fresh protein rich re-growth or the return of nutrients through faeces or both. This is in contrast with central-place foraging theory where intense feeding close to the burrow is assumed to lead to reduced food resources.


Facilitation Oryctolagus cuniculus Odour Plant nitrogen Rabbit 



We thank the National Forest Service for permission to work in Junner Koeland. The help from Julia Stahl and Wouter van Steenis with the logistics of the experiment was greatly appreciated. We thank the providers of mink pellets for their help with our project. This project was funded by grant no. 805.35.391 from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO-ALW).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. S. Bakker
    • 1
    • 4
  • R. C. Reiffers
    • 1
    • 2
  • H. Olff
    • 2
    • 3
  • J. M. Gleichman
    • 1
  1. 1.Nature Conservation & Plant Ecology GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Resource Ecology GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Community and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary StudiesUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Plant-Animal InteractionsNetherlands Institute of EcologyMaarssenThe Netherlands

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