Dietary niche partitioning between sympatric brown hares and rabbits

Lush, Lucy; Ward, Alastair‏ ‎(Alastair Iain)‏; Wheeler, Philip M.

Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences; School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences
Brown hares; Coexistence; Dietary niche; Foraging; Interspecific competition; Rabbits
2017

Journal article


Rights
©2018 University of Hull
Abstract

Coexistence of ecologically similar species is sustained by niche partitioning, a fundamental element of which is diet. Overlapping of resource requirements between sympatric species can create interspecific competitive or facilitative effects on the foraging behaviour of herbivores. Brown hares and rabbits are similar in size, morphology, feeding type and occupy the same habitats, but direct evidence of competition for resources between them is lacking. Both species are widespread and simultaneously pests and species of conservation concern in different parts of their range. We investigated dietary overlap of brown hares and European rabbits in pastures in relation to pasture management and hare and rabbit abundance. Grasses were the predominant component in both hare and rabbit diets with high overlap of plant species. Both rabbits and hares showed some selectivity for particular plants with evidence of consistent selection for Phleum spp. and relative avoidance of Poa spp. However, differences in the smaller components of hare and rabbit diet resulted in significant differences in diet overall. There was no evidence that higher relative density of one species led to dietary shifts but pasture management affected the diet of both species. Nutritional composition of diets of both species also differed between cattle and sheep pastures with higher fibre, ash and fat in the former. Our data provide no evidence of competitive exclusion between rabbits and hares on the basis of diet, but suggest that the effects of livestock on their respective diets may influence indirect competition in favour of rabbits over hares.

Publisher
The University of Hull
Peer reviewed
Yes
Language
English
Extent
487 KB
Identifier
hull:14663

Journal

Journal title
Journal of zoology
Publication date
2017
Publisher
Wiley
DOI
10.1111/jzo.12461
ISSN (Print)
0952-8369
ISSN (Electronic)
1469-7998
Volume
303
Issue
1
Start page
36
End page
45
Notes

Authors' accepted manuscript of article: Lush, L. , Ward, A. I. and Wheeler, P. (2017), Dietary niche partitioning between sympatric brown hares and rabbits. J Zool, 303: 36-45. doi:10.1111/jzo.12461

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Published article
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