Comparative Food Habits of Two Cottontail Rabbit Populations in Virginia

Food habits of cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) were determined by microscopic analysis of stomach contents from 2 physiographic regions of Virginia during 4 seasons of the year. The area examined in the mountain region (Radford Army Ammunition Plant [RAAP)) contained a high population of rabbits whereas the area studied in the piedmont region (Fort Pickett) was an area with a history of relatively low rabbit populations for the past 2 decades. Food habits of rabbits from the 2 areas were different; rabbits from Fort Pickett subsisted on much greater quantities of forbs throughout the year than RAAP rabbits which consumed primarily grasses. Collectively, leaf and stem parts of grasses and forbs made up well over 90% of total food items found in stomachs throughout the year. At Fort Pickett grasses occurred in greater volumes in winter and spring, whereas forbs were more numerous in summer and fall. Grasses predominated in all seasons at RAAP. Seventy different plant species were found in the stomachs of rabbits from both areas. The possible role of different diets in leading to different population levels in the 2 areas is discussed.

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