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Tuesday 16th July 2019

Management of Mountain Hares

What affect do intestinal parasites and food availability have on mountain hare population dynamics?

Parasites and food availability can affect individuals and populations; however the relative importance of these two factors compared to the many other factors that affect population density is not always clear and remains an important question in ecology, with considerable relevance to the management of wild and domestic populations.

Research in Fennoscandia demonstrates that predators such as red fox and pine marten have a large affect on mountain hare populations. Predator control on Scottish sporting estates has the effect of reducing both mammalian and avian predator densities and predation is not thought to be important to mountain hare populations in Scotland – at least in the eastern and central areas.

Theoretical models and studies on other species suggest that that parasites and food availability can cause regular fluctuations in animal population density. Our research has therefore been concentrating on the effects of parasites and food availability in driving the unstable population dynamics of mountain hares in Scotland. An understanding of the basic population ecology of a species is critical for sound management.

Our work to date suggests that parasite removal in early winter has no significant effect on over winter survival (Fig 1), or post-breeding body condition (Fig 2), but has a significant affect on female breeding success the following summer (Fig 3).

Effect on over winter survival with parasite removal
Effect on post-breeding body condition with parasite removal
Effect on female breeding success the following summer with parasite removal
Biodiversity research pic