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Keywords:

  • habitat selection;
  • foraging strategy;
  • mountain hare;
  • Lepus timidus;
  • heather moorland;
  • Scots pine

Mountain hares Lepus timidus L. typify species that occupy a broad geographic range and have flexible foraging and nutritional strategies. Such species may show a range of responses to habitat modification. This study aimed to provide a basis for prediction of the impact of mountain hares on woodland establishment, and of woodland establishment on mountain hare distribution. The selection of and the extent of incorporation of new woodland into the home range of mountain hares was investigated in an area where Scots pine Pinus sylvestris L. woodland was establishing within their usual habitat in Britain, upland heather moorland. Seasonal home, day and night-range sizes of radio-tracked mountain hares were determined using the multinuclear probability polygon technique and analysed using residual maximum likelihood (REML). Habitat selection was analysed using compositional analysis. Three main habitat types were available to hares: heather moorland with trees, heather moorland and grassland-mire. Mean home-range size of mountain hares in summer was 10.3 ha and in winter 9.6 ha. There were no significant seasonal or sex differences in home-range size. Females selected grassland-mire habitat in summer and showed no strong selection for any habitat in winter. Males selected heather moorland in both summer and winter. Heather moorland with trees was not selected preferentially by mountain hares of either sex in summer or winter. The absence of selection for areas of newly establishing-Scots pine woodland suggests that any browsing damage to trees by hares is most likely to be a function of the local abundance of mountain hares, rather than a result of active preference of hares for the modified habitat.