Increasing brown hare (Lepus europaeus) densities in farmland without predator culling: results of a field experiment in Switzerland

Abstract

In a field experiment in Northwestern Switzerland, we managed one part of each of four experimental areas in order to improve leveret (Lepus europaeus) survival and used the remaining part as control. The experimental areas were dominated by arable farming with a high diversity of different crops. Potential leveret predators were numerous and not controlled by gamekeeping. Management elements were wildflower patches, partly with an optimized antipredator design, and wider-sown cereals (to allow hares to enter the fields from May to July). We assumed that leverets are relatively safe in these two types of fields because these are seldom processed by agricultural machinery and potential leveret predators rarely forage there. The management lasted 7 years in two experimental areas and 3 years in the other two. Hare numbers and locations were monitored by spotlight counts, starting at least 3 years before the beginning of the experiment. In three out of the four experimental areas, we found a more positive development of hare densities in the managed area compared to the control area. Furthermore, the distribution of the hares within the experimental areas could be best described by a model including the percentage of wildflower patches, the percentage of arable land, and the percentage of cereals in wider-sown rows suggesting that hares predominantly occupied the surroundings of the management elements. We conclude that—irrespective of high predator densities—brown hare populations in agricultural landscapes with previously low hare densities can be considerably increased by offering a total area of about 3% wider-sown winter cereals or wildflower patches within the agriculturally used area.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all the farmers who have voluntarily participated in our experiment: Daniel Brunner, Toni Dalhäuser, Rudolf Eschbach, Eddi Fluri, Roger Gass, Gregor Gschwind, Lukas Gschwind, Roman Küng, Michael Lang, André Leimgruber, Walter Lüdi, Jörg Meier, Rolf Meier, Hannes Niklaus, Rolf Richterich, Walter Schluep, Christian Schürch-Meister, Urs Sprecher-Wenk, Markus Stöcklin, Sonja Stutz, Ruth Weber-Zbinden, and Andreas Zuber. We are also much indebted to the more than hundred volunteers who have counted hares and breeding birds in the experimental areas and whose names cannot be mentioned individually. Field mapping and GIS-work was done by Denise Karp, Salome Reutimann, and Stéphanie Schai-Braun. Nicolas Strebel provided crow density estimations from the swiss breeding bird atlas team. We received help in many forms by officers of the cantonal administration, especially from Ignaz Bloch, Reto Fischer, Philipp Franke, Jonas Lüthy, Mark Struch, Gabriel Sutter, Dominik Thiel. Our work was much inspired by discussions with Markus Jenny, Judith Zellweger-Fischer, and Klaus Hackländer. We thank Denise Karp for valuable suggestions to improve our manuscript. This manuscript was greatly improved by comments of two anonymous reviewers.

Funding

The experiment was funded by the association “HOPP HASE” which itself was supported by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, the Cantons of Aargau, Basel-Landschaft and Solothurn and a large number of private institutions and individuals.

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Weber, D., Roth, T. & Kohli, L. Increasing brown hare (Lepus europaeus) densities in farmland without predator culling: results of a field experiment in Switzerland. Eur J Wildl Res 65, 75 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-019-1306-2

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Keywords

  • Brown hare (Lepus europaeus)
  • Field experiment
  • Agriculture
  • Predation