Mammalian Biology

, Volume 73, Issue 4, pp 276–286 | Cite as

Comparisons of digestive function between the European hare (Lepus europaeus) and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): Mastication, gut passage, and digestibility

  • Philip StottEmail author
Original Investigation


The European hare Lepus europaeus and the European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus are sympatric in many areas of the world. They are medium-sized herbage-feeding lagomorphs and trophic competitors. Both species feed on twigs under extreme and perhaps limiting conditions. To ascertain whether fine niche separation mechanisms occur, several comparative tests of digestive function were undertaken on samples of animals drawn from sympatric populations. The weights of the organs constituting the abdominal alimentary canal, the rates of passage and the extent of trituration of dietary markers intended to mimic twigs, and the digestibility of fibre, protein, and fat were compared. Both the stomach and the caecum of the hare were significantly smaller as a proportion of body weight, and this would result in a higher power-weight ratio. Both species rapidly passed the digestive marker, but passage was significantly faster in the hare. The rabbit chewed twig-like material with a scissor cutting and crushing action, whereas the action of the hare included a stripping action that would more efficiently access soluble carbohydrates stored in vascular rays. Both species were poor digesters of fibre, but digestibility of hemicelluloses was significantly greater in the rabbit. The faeces of both species of lagomorphs contain nutrients that can be attractive to more efficient fermenters of plant fibre, and consumption of those faeces may confound lagomorph population surveys that rely on dung counts.


Cellulose Digestion Dung counts Hemicellulose Twigs 

Vergleich der Verdauungsfunktion von Feldhase (Lepus europaeus) und Wildkaninchen (Oryctolagus cuniculus): Mastikation, Darmpassage und Verdaulichkeit


Der europäische Hase Lepus europaeus und das europäische Kaninchen Otyctolagus cuniculus sind in vielen Gebieten der Welt sympatrisch. Die mittelgrossen Lagomorpha sind Nahrungskonkurrenten, die sich hauptsächlich von Gräsern und Kräutern ernähren, aber unter extremen und vermutlich begrenzenden Bedingungen auch Zweige verzehren. Um zu ermitteln, ob feine Nischenseparationsmechanismen existieren, wurden an Probenmaterial von Tieren aus sympatrischen Populationen vergleichende Untersuchungen zur Verdauungsfunktion durchgeführt. Die Gewichte der Organe, die den abdominalen Verdauungstrakt bilden, die Passageraten, und das Ausmaß der Zerreibung von dietätischen Markern als Zweigersatz sowie die Verdaulichkeit von Rohfaser, Protein und Fett wurden verglichen. Sowohl der Magen als auch das Caecum des Hasen waren signifikant kleiner im Verhältnis zum Körpergewicht; dies fuhrt zu einem größeren Kraft-Gewichtsverhältnis. Der Verdauungsmarker passierte den Verdauungstrakt beider Spezies schnell, aber die Passage war signifikant schneller beim Hasen. Das Kaninchen kaute zweigähnliches Material in einem scherenartigen Schneid-und Quetschakt. Beim Hasen ist in diesem Prozess noch eine abschälende Aktion eingeschlossen, die einen effizienteren Zugang zu wasserlöslichen, in den Speicherzellen eingelagerten Kohlenhydraten ermöglicht. Bei beiden Spezies war die Verdaulichkeit von Rohfaser gering. Das Kaninchen verdaute Hemizellulosen jedoch signifikant besser. Die Fäzes beider Lagomorpha enthalten Nährstoffe, die für effizientere Verwerter von Pflanzenfasern attraktiv sein können. Der Verzehr der Fäzes könnte daher zu Fehlern bei der Erfassung der Populationen der beiden Lagomorpha-Spezies führen, wenn die Berechnungen auf der Anzahl der Losungen beruhen.


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Copyright information

© Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Animal ScienceUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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