Behavioural activity of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) under semi-natural rearing systems: establishing a seasonal pattern
The activity of 2 populations of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus, L. 1758), consisting of 14 adults (>9 mo of age) each (4 males and 10 females), was analysed over 2 consecutive years. Rabbits were captured in the wild and kept in 2 separate enclosures of 0.5 ha, with each enclosure divided into 2 zones: a smaller area where warrens were located (breeding area) and a larger area where food and water were provided (feeding area). Seven rabbits in each enclosure were individually tagged with a microchip (2 males and 5 females) and, after installing 2 detection devices, it was possible to identify which of the 2 areas they were located in and record the length of time spent in each. To regulate the size of the breeding population, young rabbits produced in the enclosures were captured and removed regularly. Considering the number of movements between areas and the time spent in the feeding area, a circadian activity pattern was found, reporting 2 maximum activity peaks coinciding with daybreak (18.35% of the total movements, 6-8 a.m.) and twilight (22.95%, 7-10 p.m.) while activity was dramatically decreased during the mid-day hours (1.86%, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.). Rabbits displayed a seasonal pattern throughout the year, with maximum activity levels during winter (45.76% of the total movements, January-March) and spring (42.91%, April-June), which could be related to higher reproductive activity at this time of the year as a higher breeding output was reported in June and September. The levels of activity exhibited by males (13.44% daily activity rate) were significantly higher than those displayed by females (9.80%). No significant differences were found regarding time spent on the feeding area in relation to season or gender. The average duration of each foray to the feeding area was higher during the summer, higher for females than males and higher during the middle of the night than the rest of the day.