Home-range sizes in a stratified upland landscape of two lagomorphs with different feeding strategies.
The range size of adult female mountain hares (Lepus timidus) and European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), occupying a landscape in NE Scotland composed of moorland, young forest and upland pasture, were studied by radio-telemetry. The factors that affect range size of the two species were identified and interpreted with regard to their respective feeding strategies; mountain hares are summer grazers that browse in winter whereas rabbits eat grasses throughout the year. Individual mountain hares were classified as 'moorland', 'forest' or 'pasture' hares, and individual rabbits were classified as 'forest', 'pasture' or 'mixture' rabbits according to the frequency with which they used each habitat. Home-range size of both species was highly variable with a mean area (and standard deviation) of 22.2 ha (SD = 18.5) for hares and 6.3 ha (SD = 3.9) for rabbits. Home-range size of mountain hares varied according to habitat and season. There was a negative correlation between home-range size and the available green biomass of grass. This suggests that the large home ranges of 'moorland' hares during the breeding and post-breeding seasons may have been a consequence of low food availability. Home-range size of rabbits also varied according to habitat and season, but was not clearly associated with food availability, feeding strategy or social behaviour. In the early years following planting, extensive afforestation of upland moorlands is unlikely to affect mountain hare and rabbit populations if an abundant ground flora is available. Individuals of both species may even remain entirely within the plantation using very small home-ranges. However, single age plantations would have to be restructured to increase the age diversity and hence the availability of suitable habitats for long-term maintenance of viable populations of mountain hares.