Seasonal effects of habitat structure and weather on the habitat selection and home range size of a mammal in agricultural landscapes
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Human land use intensified over the last century and simultaneously, extreme weather events have become more frequent. However, little is known about the interplay between habitat structure, direct short-term weather effects and indirect seasonal effects on animal space use and behavior.
We used the European hare (Lepus europaeus) as model to investigate how habitat structure and weather conditions affect habitat selection and home range size, predictors for habitat quality and energetic requirements.
Using > 100,000 GPS positions of 60 hares in three areas in Denmark and Germany, we analyzed habitat selection and home range size in response to seasonally changing habitat structure, measured as vegetation height and agricultural field size, and weather. We compared daily and monthly home ranges to disentangle between direct short-term weather effects and indirect seasonal effects of climate.
Habitat selection and home range size varied seasonally as a response to changing habitat structure, potentially affecting the availability of food and shelter. Overall, habitat structure and seasonality were more important in explaining hare habitat selection and home range size compared to direct weather conditions. Nevertheless, hares adjusted habitat selection and daily home range size in response to temperature, wind speed and humidity, possibly in response to thermal constrains and predation risk.
For effective conservation, habitat heterogeneity should be increased, e.g. by reducing agricultural field sizes and the implementation of set-asides that provide both forage and shelter, especially during the colder months of the year.
KeywordsEuropean hare GPS Habitat selection Home range Lepus europaeus Weather
We thank the Leibniz Centre for agricultural landscape research (ZALF), the long-term research platform “AgroScapeLab Quillow” (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) e.V.), the European fund for rural development (EFRE) in the German federal state of Brandenburg and the DFG funded research training group ‘BioMove’ (RTG 2118-1) for funding the German part of the study. We also thank the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin–Niederfinow and Jochen Godt from the University of Kassel for providing the nets to catch hares, all students and hunters that helped with trapping, and the landowners for allowing us to work on their land. Further, we thank Lars Haugaard for hare captures in Denmark, Erik Lykke for allowing us to work on his land, and Sebastian Behnke from the Danish Hunters Association for his help and support. Animal captures were approved by the Federal Nature Conservation Act (§ 45 Abs. 7 Nr. 3) and the local nature conservation authority (reference number LUGV V3-2347-22-2013 and 55.2-1-54-2532-229-13) with economical funding form the Danish Environmental Agency. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
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