Semiochemicals and social signalling in the wild European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus(L.)

by Richard Andrew Hayes

Institution: University of Western Sydney
Department: School of Science
Degree: PhD
Year: 2000
Keywords: European rabbit in Australia; social behaviour in rabbits; animal communication; pheromones; Hope Farm (N.S.W.)
Record ID: 1053039
Full text PDF: http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/371


The European rabbit lives in defined social groups of between two and about twenty individuals. There are distinct social hierarchies within each group. Rabbits are known to scent-mark their environment with secretions from several glands, and the secretion of the submandibular cutaneous gland is strongly correlated with social status. Dominant, male rabbits have a higher secretory activity of the gland, and show much more scent-marking behaviour than do any other individuals within the social group. This study was principally conducted at Hope Farm, Cattai National Park in New South Wales, Australia.The proteinaceous components of the secretion varied between individuals, but the protein profile of an individual did not change over time.It was found that dominant rabbits chin mark preferentially at the entrances to warrens, and at the boundaries of their territory.The work in this study provides new insights into the way that rabbit semiochemical messages work. The difference between the secretion of a subordinate and a dominant rabbit appears to be due to the presence or absence of one compound, 2-phenoxy ethanol. This compound, with known fixative properties, supports the idea that the only difference between dominant and subordinate secretions is whether or not they persist in the environment after marking. Such a mechanism for asserting dominance may be much more common in mammals than is apparent from the published literature Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)