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Home range use by the European hare (Lepus europaeus) in a structurally diverse agricultural landscape analysed at a fine temporal scale

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An animal’s home range use is influenced by the landscape type. European hare (Lepus europaeus) home ranging behaviour has been studied only in agricultural areas with medium to large fields. In agricultural areas with small fields, European hares’ locomotor behaviour is expected to be more localised. We tracked nine European hares by means of global positioning system (GPS) and very high-frequency (VHF) collars during summer in an agricultural area with small fields in Lower Austria. In particular, we analysed the hares’ space use at a fine temporal scale, such as when they were active and resting within single 24-h periods. Furthermore, we compared data (day–day distances and day–night distances travelled) calculated from GPS and VHF telemetry. Home ranges were smaller, and the distances between areas used for activity and inactivity were shorter, in this agricultural area with small fields than has ever been measured in other agricultural areas with larger fields. Both active and inactive European hares expressed a preference for areas near field edges. Our findings suggest that with GPS, it is possible to distinguish between the movement path and the relative location of distinctly used areas within an animal’s home range, whereas with VHF these two parameters may be difficult to separate. In conclusion, our results show that in areas where resources are easily accessible, such as in agricultural areas with small fields, the European hare is able to reduce its home range size to almost half of the minimum size that has been recorded so far in other habitats. As small home ranges involve less energy expenditure for movement, our results suggest that animals living in agro-ecosystems may benefit from small fields.
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