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Hare diet selection and feeding patch choice in relation to their food quality and availability in a salt marsh habitat

Daniels, P. (2000) Hare diet selection and feeding patch choice in relation to their food quality and availability in a salt marsh habitat. Master's Thesis / Essay, Biology.

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Abstract

Diet selection and factors influencing feeding patch choice of the Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) were studied in relation to their food quality and availability in a salt marsh habitat. The study took place from July to December on the Wadden Sea island Schiermonnikoog (Netherlands). Hare diet composition and plant nutritional quality in terms of nitrogen content, fibre content (NDF) and in vitro digestibility were determined for three different periods within the field season. Diet selection was looked at by comparing proportion of species in the diet with an estimation of food species availability within an area based on hare home range size. Hare grazing preference for three vegetation types with high abundance of the important food plant Festuca rubra was investigated. These plant communities differed in species composition, F. rubra biomass and quality. Additionally, an experiment was set up to test for the effect of less palatable structure plants on feeding patch choice by hares. F. rubra was the main hare food plant over the season. When compared with it's availability this species was also a preferred food source. Hare diet selection could be explained by a combination of food quality andavailability following the principals of foraging efficiency. In July the hare diet was more diverse than later in the year. The seasonal decline in proportion of Plantago mantima, Juncus gerardi and monocotyledon inflourescences could be related to a decline in their availability. Hares started to graze more frequently on the less preferred species Artemisia mantima and Atriplex portulacoides in November/December when their major food plant F. rubra became less available due to scenescence and a high proportion of standing dead. Hare grazing preferences over the three vegetation types with a high cover of Festuca rubra showed that neither biomass nor nutritional quality alone could explain hare feeding site choice. The presence of further good quality food plants among the stands of F. rubra appeared to have a positive effect on their choice of where to feed. Long leafy swards and the occurrence of structure plants could have had a negative effect on where the hares chose to feed. The experiment showed that structure plants can have an effect on hare feeding patch choice. Towards the end of the year when overall F. rubra was less available the hares changed their grazing preferences. Hares became less selective of their feeding sites towards the end of the year when F. rubra became less available. They started grazing on F. rubra in sites they avoided while this food source more available.

Item Type: Thesis (Master's Thesis / Essay)
Degree programme: Biology
Thesis type: Master's Thesis / Essay
Language: English
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2018 07:31
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2018 07:31
URI: http://fse.studenttheses.ub.rug.nl/id/eprint/9226

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