World Lagomorph Society
World Lagomorph Society
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Conservation Ecology of the Irish Hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus)
Reid, N.


Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) population declines may have been initiated by changes in land management practices and agricultural intensification during the early 20th century. Irish hare population dynamics demonstrate substantial interannual and multiannual population fluctuation with a decadal anti-cycle periodicity. Annual population growth may be influenced by both intrinsic delayed density dependence and extrinsic climatic factors.

Analysis of hare coursing activity during the last 20 years indicates that measures taken by the Irish Coursing Club to mitigate the impact of its activity on hare welfare has reduced hare mortality significantly. Current mortality rates are negligible and it is unlikely that hare coursing has a negative effect on Irish hare populations.

Introduced Brown hares (Lepus europaeus) have successfully naturalised in Northern Ireland with populations present in Mid-Ulster and West Tyrone. Brown and Irish hares may have a strong interspecific competitive relationship as their ecological niches are similar and overlap considerably. Where brown hare populations have established they have usurped a proportion of the native Irish hare population. Brown hares may pose a potential threat to Irish hare populations in the future.

Seasonal radiotracking indicates that habitat heterogeneity is important to Irish hares. Hares used improved grasslands during crepuscular and nocturnal periods and Juncus-dominated pasture during diurnal periods, suggesting that hares require habitats that provide both high quality forage and shelter and cover.

Current conservation strategies, such as the Northern Ireland and all-Ireland Irish hare Species Action Plans (SAPs) rely on the success of agri-environment schemes to enhance suitable hare habitat to achieve their goal of increasing hare populations by 2010. Current research indicates that agri-environment scheme measures have had no effect on hare incidence or abundance, suggesting that without the introduction of a specific Irish hare measure they are unlikely to provide suitable mechanisms to achieve conservation objectives. 


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Document Information
Publish date: September 2006
Edition: PhD Thesis, Queen’s University Belfast