Lutra 49(1)_Dekker et al_2006

No effects of dominance rank or sex on spatial behaviour of rabbits

The home range is an important measure of the spatial behaviour of animals. In rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), spatial behaviour may be affected by social rank and sex. Subdominant animals are expected to have a larger home range and to forage farther from the burrow than dominant animals. Females are expected to have a smaller home range than males. To test these hypotheses, we determined home range size and distance to the burrow during foraging within a low density, semi-natural rabbit population in the Netherlands, using daytime observations of marked individuals. Individual median distance to the nearest burrow during foraging ranged from 3 to 16 m. Home range varied between 0.01 and 0.43 ha, which is the smallest home range area reported for rabbits in Europe. We found no difference in home range or foraging distance between males or females, or between dominant and subdominant animals. We postulate that this is caused by an interaction of two factors: low animal density and high availability of high quality food. This meant that there was no need to compete for best or safest foraging locations, and males did not need to protect females in their group against other males. This is also our explanation as to why the home ranges in our study are the smallest recorded.