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European rabbits recognise conspecifics in their predators’ diets

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Rabbits can successfully avoid their enemies by evaluating the risk of predation. They have various defensive strategies, such as morphological adaptations and behaviours patterns, which enable them to perceive their predators and thus reduce the risk of predation. It is well documented that rabbits recognise the scats of terrestrial predators and avoid those areas in which they are present. However, few studies show whether the prey species can recognise the presence of congeners in carnivores’ scats, which would allow them to identify their predators in a more efficient manner. We have carried out a comparative analysis of the use of space made by rabbits on plots on which a neutral odour (water) or the odours of the ferrets’ scats that had consumed either rabbit or another mammal (beef) were applied. Our results showed a lower number of rabbit pellets on those plots containing predator odours than on the control plots. During the first 6 days after applying the first odour, the number of rabbit pellets was lower on plots on which rabbit had been included in the diet when compared with scats obtained from a beef diet. However, no differences between the two experimental plots were recorded during the third visit (9 days after applying the first odour). Our results suggest that rabbits may be able to detect congeners in their predators’ scats, thus leading them to, in the short term, avoid areas in which their terrestrial predators’ diet is based on conspecifics, probably as the result of them perceiving a higher risk of predation.

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We would like to thank the landowners that allowed us to work in their fields. We are indebted to A. J. Carpio and our others partners for their help during the fieldwork and to the farmers for their cooperation. Two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.


This work was supported by the AGL2012–40128-C03–01 project and EU-FEDER funds from the Spanish government.

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Correspondence to José Guerrero-Casado.

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Prada, L.M., Guerrero-Casado, J. & Tortosa, F.S. European rabbits recognise conspecifics in their predators’ diets. acta ethol 21, 163–168 (2018).

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