Seasonal changes in habitat use and feeding strategy of the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) in the Central Alps


The mountain hare Lepus timidus (Linnaeus, 1758) is one of the smallest mammals in Alpine environments that stays active year-round without any conspicuous physiological adaptions. Mountain hares thus need to respond to seasonal changes by adaptive habitat and diet choice. We studied seasonal changes in habitat use and feeding strategy in the continental Central Alps during one year. Monitoring of the presence and density of dung and microhistological analysis of faecal pellets revealed that forest habitats, particularly mountain pine shrubs (Pinus mugo ssp.), were used throughout the year, whilst open habitats were avoided during snow-covered seasons. The probabilities of pellet presence and density were positively correlated with the proportion of trees and grass in spring, summer and autumn whereas in winter, they correlated only with the proportion of trees. The observed patterns can be explained by the importance of shelter and food availability which change seasonally and especially due to snow cover. We concluded that the availability of shelter was more important than food because hares selected habitat types that offered security from predators rather than habitat types with high food quality.

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habitat selection; diet analysis; feeding; dung; mountain pine shrubs

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Hystrix, the Italian Journal of Mammalogy ISSN 1825-5272 (electronic version) 0394-1914 (printed version) Impact Factor (2015) 4.333, SNIP (2014) 1.01.
Published by Associazione Teriologica Italiana
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