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Effects of human induced land-use changes on the distribution of the Iberian hare



Miguel Angel Farfán, Departamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Málaga, E-29071 Málaga, Spain



Land conversion in Mediterranean Europe has substantially altered the biotic interactions and patterns of resource availability in many ecosystems with serious environmental consequences on some species. Habitat changes are thought to be the main cause of the decline in numbers of European hares, Lepus europaeus, throughout Europe. In contrast, the Iberian hare L. granatensis, in Spain has significantly increased in numbers since the early 1990s. We aimed to investigate changes in habitat favourability of the Iberian hare within municipalities in southern Spain from 1960s to the 1990s. We use predictive distribution models to assess the relationship between the species' distribution, based on hunting yields, and environmental variables by municipality. Our results show that Iberian hare habitat requirements have changed significantly in recent decades from a highly significant association with natural vegetation in the 1960s, to one with cultivated lands in the 1990s. We argue that this shift in habitat may have enabled the Iberian hare to increase in numbers. Habitat heterogeneity at the municipality scale may have benefited Iberian hares, especially within olive groves. Unlike the European hare, which has suffered the conversion from natural vegetation to highly homogeneous, intensively managed landscapes, the Iberian hare in Andalusia has benefited from dry wood crops and irrigated herbaceous crops. These anthropogenic habitats provide year-round cover and food. However, schemes that target the regeneration of heterogeneity in a variety of landscapes in Andalusia should be encouraged.