Diet selection by European hares (Lepus europaeus) in the alpine zone of the Snowy Mountains, Australia

K Green, N E. Davis, Wayne Robinson, J McAuliffe, R Good

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

European hares (Lepus europaeus) are grazers andopen grassland specialists that are replaced in mountain areasof their natural range in the northern hemisphere bybrowsing/intermediate feeding mountain hares (Lepustimidus), but in their introduced range in the southern hemisphere,occupy the alpine zone. We used micro-histologicalidentification of plant fragments and germination of seeds infaecal pellets of L. europaeus from the Snowy Mountains,Australia, to determine diet. We asked whether diet shiftedand/or diet breadth expanded in response to seasonally reducedfood availability, particularly during winter. If so, didthe constraints of food availability in the alpine zone lead tothe diet mirroring that of L. timidus in its native alpine habitat.The diet of L. europaeus was dominated by grasses, herbs andshrubs. The main diet items in summer were grasses (70 %)and herbs (28 %). Grasses declined in the diet between summerand autumn when herbs increased to co-dominance, witha further change after establishment of the winter snowpack toa greater preponderance of shrubs (43 % compared with amaximum of 3%in snow-free months). L. europaeus selecteda wider range of plants inwinter (59 species comparedwith 39in summer) and diet was significantly more variable in winterthan in autumn or summer (and in autumn than summer). Weconcluded that the persistence of L. europaeus in alpine areasof the southern hemisphere is testament to their ability toexpand their dietary breadth to occupy mountain climaticzones normally occupied by L. timidus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-703
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Volume59
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013

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