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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Hunting harvest data in Sweden indicate precipitous decline in the native mountain hare subspecies Lepus timidus sylvaticus (heath hare)

Thulin, C. -G.; Winiger, A.; Tallian, A. G.; Kindberg, J.


Brown hare (Lepus europaeus) seems to outcompete mountain hare (L. timidus) wherever the two species co-occur, but few studies have validated or even addressed this issue. In southern Sweden, the distribution of non-native brown hare overlaps with that of the mountain hare subspecies heath hare (L. t. sylvaticus), possibly the only mammalian subspecies unique to Sweden. In any competitive interaction, at least one species is negatively affected. If outcompetition occurs, then population trends over geographical areas where both species occur should be correlated. In order to assess this, we analysed Swedish hunting harvest data on brown hare and mountain hare for correlations on different spatial scales. We also assessed the relative importance of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) for hare populations by incorporating hunting harvest data for red fox in the analysis. A decline in hunting harvest was observed for both hare species throughout Sweden, while harvest of foxes increased. The harvest decline in mountain hare was generally larger than that in brown hare, particularly in the southern half of Sweden where heath hare is the dominant mountain hare subspecies. Observed patterns in the hunting harvest data for southern Sweden indicate an alarming declining trend for heath hare subspecies, with an obvious risk of extinction. In combination with continued research efforts, we suggest an adaptive management programme to preserve and restore the heath hare subspecies in its current range, through a network of 'reservoir islands' with supplementary translocation of heath hare. Developing and implementing an educational public outreach programme aimed at local hunting and naturalist associations can also help facilitate heath hare conservation.


Hunting harvest data; Alternative stable state; Hare; Lepus; Interaction; Competition; Predation

Published in

Journal for Nature Conservation
2021, Volume: 64, article number: 126069