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Individual Highlight

Pygmy Rabbits Use Nutritional and Chemical Cues While Making Foraging Decisions

Photo of A pygmy rabbit. Boise State University, Boise State UnivsersityA pygmy rabbit. Boise State University, Boise State UnivsersitySnapshot : Pygmy rabits are dietary specialists that feed on sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and forage on specific plants more than others within a foraging patch. This indicates that dietary quality of the landscape is an important parameter to consider when planning and implementing conservation and restoration strategies for pygmy rabbit habitat.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Kelsey, Rick G. 
Research Location : Western United States
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 668

Summary

For herbivores, nutrient intake is limited by the relatively low nutritional quality of plants and their high concentrations of potentially toxic defensive compounds, referred to as plant secondary metabolites. In response to these phytochemical challenges, some herbivores selectively forage on plants with higher nutrient and lower secondary metabolite concentrations. Pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) are dietary specialists that feed on sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and forage on specific plants more than others within a foraging patch. These rabbits can also occupy foraging patches near their burrows for multiple years, and their constant browsing may influence the nutritional and secondary metabolite constituents of these plants. Scientists hypothesized that plants with evidence of heavy browsing by pygmy rabbits would have higher dietary quality than plants that were not browsed. They found that sagebrush plants containing higher crude protein had greater odds of being browsed by pygmy rabbits than plants with lower protein, whereas the opposite was observed for certain secondary metabolites. The scientists concluded that pygmy rabbits use nutritional and chemical cues while making foraging decisions. This indicates that dietary quality of the landscape is an important parameter to consider when planning and implementing conservation and restoration strategies for pygmy rabbit habitat.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Boise State University
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • University of Idaho
  • Washington State University