Frightened rabbits cause variation in the vegetation

Rabbits prefer to graze as close to their burrow as possible. Only when there really isn’t enough to eat, they dare to go further away from their safe holes. Thus they create an environment in the ecosystem, that some plants make use of.
Lately, nature conservationists repeatedly claim that the rabbit could just as well be replaced by large grazers. Researcher dr. Jasja Dekker of the Resource Ecology Group of Wageningen University does not agree. His PH D dissertation shows that rabbits create patterns in ecosystems that cows and horses fail to do. This is not because rabbit select by quality, but because they are tied to their burrow. Cows don’t care where they graze, as long as there is enough grass. But the eating habits of a rabbit is not only determined by the quality of the grass. Their first concern is safety.
As rabbits graze more thoroughly in the vicinity of the burrow, and as some plants can handle grazing better than others, patterns in the vegetation come into being. 'Rabbits make specific niches such as bare spots, where pioneer vegetation can grow', according to Dekker. 'I doubt large grazers are capable of accomplishing this.'
Cows and horses can help the rabbits, though. In many areas, rabbit populations barely recover from deadly rabbit diseases. Large grazers may be able to help. Dekker showed that a high density of large grazers in rugged areas resulted in a greater number of small herbivores, such as the rabbit. ‘Small grazers suffer from the aging of the vegetation. Large herbivores graze the vegetation down again.' Jasja Dekker obtained his doctorate at Herbert Prins, professor of Resource Ecology.