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Open Access Research article

Exploration forays in juvenile European hares (Lepus europaeus): dispersal preludes or hunting-induced troubles?

Alexis Avril14*, Jérôme Letty1, Yves Léonard2 and Dominique Pontier3

Author Affiliations

1 Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS), Direction des Études et de la Recherche, F-34990 Juvignac, France

2 ONCFS, F-45370 Dry, France

3 Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie évolutive, CNRS UMR5558, Université de Lyon Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, F-69622 Villeurbanne, France

4 Present address: Centre for Ecology and Evolution in Microbial Model Systems, Linnaeus University, Kalmar SE-391 82, Sweden

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BMC Ecology 2014, 14:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-14-6

Published: 26 February 2014

Abstract

Background

Movements of animals have important consequences, at both the individual and population levels. Due to its important implications in the evolutionary dynamics of populations, dispersal is one of the most studied types of movement. In contrast, non-permanent extra home-range movements are often paid less attention. However, these movements may occur in response to important biological processes such as mating or predation avoidance. In addition, these forays are often preludes to permanent dispersal, because they may help individuals gain cues about their surroundings prior to settlement in a new place.

In the European hare, exploration forays occur predominantly in juveniles, the time at which most hares disperse. In France, the timing of dispersal also overlaps with the hare hunting period. However, the determinants of such behaviour have not yet been studied. Herein, we investigate whether these non-permanent explorations are dispersal attempts/preludes or, in contrast, whether they are triggered by other factors such as disturbances related to hunting.

Results

Contrary to natal dispersal, we did not find strong male-bias in the propensity to engage in explorations. Exploration forays occurred less in juveniles than in adults and later in the season than natal dispersal. This was the case both for philopatric movements and for movements occurring after dispersal and settlement. These movements were also more likely to occur during the hare hunting period and the mating season.

Conclusions

We suggest that explorations in hares are triggered by factors other than dispersal and that hares may respond to hunting disturbances. Overall, we emphasize the need to account for human-related predation risk as a factor driving space-use in harvested species.

Keywords:
Predation risk; Extra home-range movements; Telemetry; Dispersal stage; Lagomorphs