Seasonal changes in condition, reproduction and fecundity in the wild European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

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Abstract

A total of 1248 rabbits (Oryctolagus amiculus) were shot on farmland in Cambridgeshire, UK over a period of three years. This provided pooled estimates of changes in reproductive and body condition and of fecundity during the annual cycle. Both males and females showed a significant annual cycle in reproductive condition as indicated by changes in the size of the gonads and accessory glands of reproduction. No females were pregnant during October, November and December, but males with active spermatogenesis were found during every month of the year. The distribution of pregnancies through the year showed that the reproductive season varied greatly between individuals. Peak fecundity occurred during April, May and June. On average, each female conceived 23.9 and suckled 17.2 young per breeding season. Proportionately more young died during the early stages of the reproductive season. The body weight of adult males, but not of females, varied seasonally. Body condition (kidney fat index) in adults was maximal at the start of the breeding season and minimal at the end.

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