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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Long-term patterns in European brown hare population dynamics in Denmark: effects of agriculture, predation and climate

Niels M Schmidt12*, Tommy Asferg3 and Mads C Forchhammer2

  • * Corresponding author: Niels M Schmidt nms@kvl.dk

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology, Zoology Section, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Thorvaldsensvej 40, DK-1871 Frederiksberg, Denmark

2 Department of Population Biology, Institute of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

3 Department of Wildlife Ecology and Biodiversity, National Environmental Research Institute, Grenåvej 14, DK-8410 Rønde, Denmark

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BMC Ecology 2004, 4:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-4-15

Published: 12 October 2004

Abstract

Background

In Denmark and many other European countries, harvest records suggest a marked decline in European brown hare numbers, a decline often attributed to the agricultural practice. In the present study, we analyse the association between agricultural land-use, predator abundance and winter severity on the number of European brown hares harvested in Denmark in the years 1955 through 2000.

Results

Winter cereals had a significant negative association with European brown hare numbers. In contrast to this, root crop area was positively related to their numbers. Remaining crop categories were not significantly associated with the European brown hare numbers, though grass out of rotation tended to be positively related. The areas of root crop production and of grass out of rotation have been reduced by approximately 80% and 50%, respectively, while the area of winter cereals has increased markedly (>70%). However, European brown hare numbers were primarily negatively associated with the number of red fox. Finally, we also found a positive association between mild winters and European brown hare numbers.

Conclusion

The decline of Danish European brown hare populations can mainly be attributed to predation by red fox, but the development in agricultural land-use during the last 45 years have also affected the European brown hare numbers negatively. Additionally, though mild winters were beneficial to European brown hares, the increasing frequency of mild winters during the study period was insufficient to reverse the negative population trend.