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The population status of mountain hare in Norway – state of knowledge
Hans Chr. Pedersen,



The mountain hare (Lepus timidus) has a wide distribution, and plays an important role in many ecosystems, especially as a prey species for mammalian and avian predators. Despite this, we have limited knowledge of its ecology, population dynamics and population status. The number of hares shot in Norway was high in the 1980’s. Number of hares shot peaked in 1990 (approximately 125 000), but since then annual bag has declined, and currently the harvest is around 20 000 hares shot annually. Bag statistics have however been criticized for not being a suitable index of population status of mountain hare. We will here shed light on the population status of mountain hare in Norway, mainly by evaluation of the credibility of bag statistics.

Possible reasons for the decline in mountain hare bag statistics are: 1) Decline in number of traditional hare hunters using dogs, due to decreased interest for this type of hunting. 2) Decline in overall numbers of small game hunters. 3) Small game hunters are not interested in hunting hares. 4) Decline in traditional hare hunting using dogs in areas with recolonizing wolves.

The proportion of small game hunters that shoot hares, trends in annual numbers of small game hunters, proportion of hares shot within counties with wolves, and the correlation between an index of hare tracks from snow transects and bag statistics from Hedmark County indicates all that bag statistics mirrors an actual population decline for mountain hare. Thus, the decline is not caused by management decisions, changes in the hunter population or hunter behavior.

The observed population decline of mountain hare in Norway must be due to changes in the drivers behind the population dynamics. This could be caused by new drivers in the system or changes to or increased importance of existing drivers. It is likely that several drivers are acting in symphony to create the population changes we see. It is therefore of vital importance to determine which drivers are affecting which demographic parameters. For instance, what factors are affecting fecundity, juvenile and adult survival, and how and why has this changed compared to previously. Several factors may affect the observed changes in the mountain hare population: 1) Climate change. 2) Hunting. 3) Predation and parasites. 4) Competition with other herbivores, mainly cervids. 5) Forage availability and habitat changes. By reviewing these factors, we find three drivers that need further attention, namely climate change, predation and competition from cervids.

The decline in bag statistics is likely caused by an actual population decline. We have however limited knowledge of several aspects of mountain hare population development, and available data is scarce. Thus it is important to: 1) Increase our knowledge of the population status of mountain hares. 2) Determine the relative importance of the different factors/drivers to the population dynamics of mountain hares.

The importance and function of different drivers may be determined by combining population monitoring and individual-based studies. This knowledge will be important for mountain hare management within Norway, but may also be applied generally where hare species are declining.


Complete reference in English: Pedersen, S. & Pedersen, H. C. 2012. The population status of mountain hare in Norway – state of knowledge. – NINA Report 886. 41 pp. ISSN: 1504-3312

ISBN: 978-82-426-2484-0

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Hope you find this interesting for your members.

All the best,


Hans Chr. Pedersen
Senior scientist, Dr. philos

Norwegian Institute for Nature Research - NINA
Postal address: P.O.Box 5685 Sluppen, NO-7485 Trondheim, NORWAY
Delivery/Visiting address: Tungasletta 2, NO-7047 Trondheim, NORWAY
Phone: +47 73 80 14 00 • Cell: +47 40 48 64 42 • Fax: +47 73 80 14 01 • www.nina.no________________________________________________________________


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Publish date: January 2013
Edition: n/a