European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 109–118 | Cite as

Diet selection by hares (Lepus europaeus) in arable land and its implications for habitat management

  • Thomas Reichlin
  • Erich Klansek
  • Klaus HackländerEmail author
Original paper


Populations of European hares (Lepus europaeus) have experienced a dramatic decline throughout Europe in recent decades. European hares are assumed to prefer weeds over arable crops, and weed abundance was reduced by the intensification of agriculture. Therefore, modern agriculture has been blamed as a major factor affecting European hare populations. However, it is questionable whether European hares select weeds at all, as previous studies had major methodological limitations. By comparing availability and use of plants with Chesson’s Electivity Index, we investigated whether the European hare actually feeds selectively on different plants in arable land. Food availability and use were dominated by cultivated crops (e.g. winter wheat, spring barley and sugar beet). Diet selection analysis revealed that in autumn and winter, European hares predominantly preferred cultivated crops (winter wheat) and food items provided by hunters (tubers of sugar beet and carrot). In spring and summer, apart from soy, only weeds (e.g. clover and corn poppy) were positively selected, especially after cereal crops were harvested. We suggest that the decline in European hare populations throughout Europe was facilitated by the decrease in weed abundance. Wildlife-friendly set-asides in arable land have the potential to reconcile the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy with wildlife conservation.


Conservation Set-aside Weeds Small game Electivity 



We are grateful to the hunting societies of Lassee, Oberweiden and Zwerndorf for cooperation and to the district administration of Gänserndorf for allowing hare sampling. We thank Brunhilde Gabriel, Minh Hien Le, Ivana Nabih, Theodora Steineck and Eva Steiger for their help with carcass dissection. Mathias Michel supported us in mathematics, and Nancy Vaughan Jennings helped in improving the English. We are grateful to anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. This study was financed by a habilitation grant of the Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung to KH, and by grants of the Hunting Society of Lower Austria and the Verein Grünes Kreuz. We declare that this study complies with the current laws of Austria.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Reichlin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Erich Klansek
    • 1
  • Klaus Hackländer
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Research Institute of Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Veterinary Medicine ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Zoological Institute—Conservation BiologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Institute of Wildlife Biology and Game Management, Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Natural Resources and Applied Life SciencesViennaAustria

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