Helsingin yliopisto

 

Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

The ecology of the mountain hare (Lepus timidus L.) in managed boreal forests: habitat associations at different forest scales

Matti Hiltunen

Doctoral dissertation, November 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Biosciences, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and RKTL.

Aims of this thesis This study is part of a larger hare project in Finland, which provides answers to basic ecological questions regarding the mountain hare. This study of the ecology of the mountain hare focuses in particular on different levels of managed boreal forest.

The feeding habits and intensity of mountain hares in winter are explored, and the connections between mountain hares versus the forest structure are also studied (e.g. habitat use and the importance of different forest layers for hares). The use of the environment by hares at the landscape level was examined (forest patch structures), and the home ranges of mountain hares were studied. Finally, the productivity and survival rate of mountain hare populations were also studied (discussion e.g. predator effects on hare populations).

Conclusions

Feeding intensity seemed to be highest in the spring-winter, when home ranges were also largest. Favourable food species are covered by snow in winter and the mobility of hares is highest during late winter. A shortage of suitable food species may be problematic for hares, especially during the winter period. In this study mountain hares preferred a dense shrub layer at local level and deciduous and mixed tree forest over coniferous forest at the landscape level. Food and shelter are vital for hares and the preference for particular habitats may also affect the population dynamics of the mountain hare.

It would be possible to improve the quality of food and shelter or at least prevent the most negative habitat changes through forest management. At a local level it is also possible to add supplementary food for hares through the winter period. The intensive clearing of young sapling stands and especially the removal of deciduous shrubs and trees reduces the quality of habitats for the mountain hare.

Mountain hares primarily live in forest habitat and it is possible that changes in the forest structure play a crucial role in mountain hare habitat preference. Ecological knowledge of the mountain hare is vital to create habitat structure more suitable for the species. More deciduous trees should be saved in managing forests and the mechanical clearing of the shrub layer should be done carefully.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 24.10.2006

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