, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 923-932
Date: 28 Apr 2012

Influence of weather factors on population dynamics of two lagomorph species based on hunting bag records

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Abstract

Weather conditions can have a significant influence on short-term fluctuations of animal populations. In our study, which is based on time series of hunting bag records of up to 28 years from 26 counties of The Netherlands and Germany, we investigated the impact of different weather variables on annual counts of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and European hares (Lepus europaeus). Overall, the long-term dynamics of both species could be described by higher-order polynomials. On a smaller time scale, the number of European hares shot was lower in years with higher amounts of precipitation during late summer/autumn, and the number of European rabbits shot was lower in years with high precipitation in spring of the respective year. We suggest that rainy weather conditions might have lowered the survival of young rabbits in spring and might have generally facilitated the outbreak or spread of diseases in rabbits as well as in hares, specifically in autumn. In addition, the results showed a time-delayed, interactive effect between precipitation in spring and winter weather on European rabbit dynamics: rabbit numbers were limited by low temperatures of the prior winter season, but only when precipitation was high during spring of the previous year. The latter result might be explained by the lowering effects of rainy spring weather on the body condition of the animals, leading to higher sensitivity to harsh winter conditions. In conclusion, our study provides evidence for the impact of weather conditions on the population dynamics of both study species and particularly highlights complex interactions between the prevailing weather conditions during different seasons in the European rabbit.

Communicated by C. Gortázar