Feeding facilitation as a possible mechanism for coexistence between herbivores: the case-study of rabbits and large grazers


Coexistence of different herbivore species is an important topic in ecology, leading to one central question: how can species using the same or a similar limiting resource live together? Feeding facilitation between these species is one possible answer to this question, and a thorough knowledge of the effective mechanisms through which this process operates is necessary (Arsenault & Owen-Smith 2002).

Using the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.), one of the most important free-living herbivores in Flemish coastal sand dunes, as a model organism, we test the hypothesis that facilitation between rabbits and large grazers is the consequence of the interaction between:

1. the creation of a short, fastly growing and nutritionally-rich vegetation created by grazing of large grazers (so-called “grazing lawns”, McNaughton 1984)
2. the need of rabbits for high quality forage, which is typical for smaller-sized herbivores (Demment & van Soest 1985; Olff et al. 2002).

The present research consists of four parts:

1. Describing the use of short and tall vegetation by rabbits by combining descriptive and experimental field observations.
2. Comparing forage quality between grazed and ungrazed vegetation.
3. Examining the criteria used by rabbits to select food plants, by comparing diet composition and food availability in the field, and by strictly controlled food choice experiments.
4. Estimating the influence of rabbits on their environment, and therefore on their own food supply.


diet selection, facilitation, feeding trial, forage quality, grazing, herbivory, Oryctolagus cuniculus, rabbit


Agricultural {Habitat type}


Name Role Start End
Matheve, Hans admin
Somers, Nele promotor


Name Role Start End
Terrestrial Ecology leader

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

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