Sinks without borders: snowshoe hare dynamics in a complex landscape


  • Paul C. Griffin,

  • L. Scott Mills

P. C. Griffin ( and L. S. Mills, Wildlife Biology Program, Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. Present address for PCG: US Geological Survey, Biological Resource Division, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Olympic Field Station, 600 E. Park Ave, Port Angeles, WA 98362, USA.


A full understanding of population dynamics of wide-ranging animals should account for the effects that movement and habitat use have on individual contributions to population growth or decline. Quantifying the per-capita, habitat-specific contribution to population growth can clarify the value of different patch types, and help to differentiate population sources from population sinks. Snowshoe hares, Lepus americanus, routinely use various habitat types in the landscapes they inhabit in the contiguous US, where managing forests for high snowshoe hare density is a priority for conservation of Canada lynx, Lynx canadensis. We estimated density and demographic rates via mark–recapture live trapping and radio-telemetry within four forest stand structure (FSS) types at three study areas within heterogeneous managed forests in western Montana. We found support for known fate survival models with time-varying individual covariates representing the proportion of locations in each of the FSS types, with survival rates decreasing as use of open young and open mature FSS types increased. The per-capita contribution to overall population growth increased with use of the dense mature or dense young FSS types and decreased with use of the open young or open mature FSS types, and relatively high levels of immigration appear to be necessary to sustain hares in the open FSS types. Our results support a conceptual model for snowshoe hares in the southern range in which sink habitats (open areas) prevent the buildup of high hare densities. More broadly, we use this system to develop a novel approach to quantify demographic sources and sinks for animals making routine movements through complex fragmented landscapes.