Selection of resting sites by the European hare as related to habitat characteristics during agricultural changes
The decline of the European hare Lepus europaeus populations has been shown to be correlated with agricultural intensification, which has caused loss of habitat heterogeneity. We aimed to investigate the diurnal spring habitat selection using Jacobs’ second selection index in an intensively cultivated farmland to reveal how the habitat choice by resting hares was affected by changes in the habitat availability. Clearance counts of hares driven out of known areas were made during an 11-year field investigation within two sectors of a private hunting ground located in the Paris basin (France). The loss of habitat heterogeneity included the disappearance of pastures dedicated to a last remaining sheep farm in the area, the removal of non-cropped areas and field boundaries and the increase of mean field size. Breeding stocks of hare declined during the study. Harrowed fields were always avoided. Pastures, alfalfa fields, thickets and fallow land were selected at the start of our study, whereas the remaining part was avoided at the end. The preference for ploughed fields decreased with the growth of vegetation in the winter-wheat fields. To benefit hares, land management should provide year-round vegetative cover and food from non-cropped areas in intensive arable farms.
KeywordsArable farmland Field margin Habitat heterogeneity Habitat selection Lepus europaeus Population decline
Partial financial support for this study was provided by the National Game and Wildlife Agency (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage). We are grateful to Mr. de Boisgelin for permitting us to work on his farm. We are very grateful to the volunteers who helped us to carry out the spring censuses, and especially to Marcel Birkan. Assistance for the ANCOVA was kindly provided by Nicolas Morellet. Two anonymous referees provided very helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
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