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Abstract

An animal’s level of vigilance depends on various environmental factors such as predator presence or the proximity of conspecific competitors. In addition, several individual traits may influence vigilance. We investigated the effects of body condition, social rank and the state of pregnancy on individual vigilance (scanning) rates in individually marked European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) of a field enclosure population. We found lower rates in young rabbits than in adult females, but male and female juveniles did not differ. Vigilance of juveniles was positively correlated with their age-dependent body mass (used as a measure of body condition), i.e. young rabbits with lower body condition scanned less. We suggest that juveniles with low body condition were trading off vigilance against feeding to maximise their growth. In contrast, there was no significant correlation between body mass and vigilance in adult females. Adult females increased scanning rates during late pregnancy, which might constitute a behavioural compensation because of their lower capacity to escape predator attacks. In addition, adult females with low social ranks scanned more than high ranking individuals, likely because of their higher risk of attacks by conspecifics. In summary, our results highlight various individual characteristics that influence vigilance behaviour in European rabbits.