Range expansion and comparative habitat use of insular, congeneric lagomorphs: invasive European hares Lepus europaeus and endemic Irish hares Lepus timidus hibernicus

Abstract

The European hare (Lepus europaeus) has declined throughout its native range but invaded numerous regions where it has negatively impacted native wildlife. In southern Sweden, it replaces the native mountain hare (L. timidus) through competition and hybridisation. We investigated temporal change in the invasive range of the European hare in Ireland, and compared its habitat use with the endemic Irish hare (L. timidus hibernicus). The range of the European hare was three times larger and its core range twice as large in 2012-2013 than in 2005. Its rate of radial range expansion was 0.73 km per year with its introduction estimated to have occurred ca. 1970. Both species utilised improved and rough grasslands and exhibited markedly similar regression coefficients with almost every land cover variable examined. Irish hares were associated with low fibre and high sugar content grass (good quality grazing) whilst the invader had a greater tolerance for low quality forage. European hares were associated with habitat patch edge density, suggesting it may be more suited to using hedgerows as diurnal resting sites than the Irish hare. Consequently, the invader had a wider niche breadth than the native but their niche overlap was virtually complete. Given the impact of the European hare on native species elsewhere, and its apparent pre-adaption for improved grasslands interspersed with arable land (a habitat that covers 70 % of Ireland), its establishment and range expansion poses a significant threat to the ecological security of the endemic Irish hare, particularly given their ecological similarities.

Publication
Biological Invasions. 17:687-698.
Date

Cite as: Caravaggi A, Montgomery WI, Reid N. 2015. Range expansion and comparative habitat use of insular, congeneric lagomorphs: invasive European hares Lepus europaeus and endemic Irish hares Lepus timidus hibernicus. Biological Invasions. 17:687-698. doi: 10.1007/s10530-014-0759-1