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How do agricultural practices affect the movement behaviour of European brown hares (Lepus europaeus)?

Ullmann, W., Fischer, C., Kramer-Schadt, S., Pirhofer-Walzl, K., Glemnitz, M., Blaum, N.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2020 v.292 pp. 106819
Lepus europaeus, accelerometers, agricultural land, agricultural management, corn, energy expenditure, fertilizer application, global positioning systems, grasslands, habitats, hares, harvesting, landscapes, mineral fertilizers, mowing, probability, rapeseed, vegetation structure, wheat, wildlife, Germany
Agricultural landscapes are spatially and temporally dynamic habitats that force wildlife to interact with different management practices, such as harvests and mowing events which cause sudden changes in resource availability. Animals may avoid agricultural management events and the changed habitat, to search for undisturbed areas or they might use and explore such areas due to beneficial changes in vegetation structure. Further, landscape structure might influence the movement processes that are underlying reactions to agricultural management. Here we study how agricultural management events affect animal movement behaviour in two contrastingly structured agricultural landscapes.In 2014 and 2015 we collared 36 European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) with GPS-tags and accelerometers in Northeast Germany (large agricultural fields) and South Germany (small fields and comparatively more non-arable vegetation). We recorded hares’ movement behaviour for 4 days before and after agricultural management events without (e.g. fertilizer application) and with (harvest and mowing) immediate changes in resource availability, on the most common production cover types (wheat, grasslands, maize and rapeseed). We measured the number of GPS points in the focal fields, the range size (area covered within 4 days), the shift in range centre, and the hares’ energy expenditure (overall dynamic body acceleration).More GPS locations were found on fields following management events that affected resource availability, and less GPS fixes were recorded on the wheat fields after management events without resource changes. Compared to an equivalent period without management events, hares showed increased range shifts after harvesting maize and rapeseed fields, mowing grasslands and after management events without resource changes for most of the production cover types. Range sizes were only affected in wheat fields in Northeast Germany, where they increased after harvest and decreased after management events without resource changes. Energy expenditure was unaffected by agricultural management.Hares may profit from harvested fields, likely because they find food in form of fallen grains, improve their predator detection probability and generally prefer areas with low vegetation. The reaction to management events without the change of resources might depend on the specific type of management practices (e.g. organic vs. inorganic fertilizer). Landscape structure may play an important role as range sizes increase due to the necessity to reach distant alternative habitats. Hence, the provision of smaller fields with high crop diversity and sufficient alternative habitat patches throughout the year has the potential to maximise accessible resources and predator detection ability for hares and other farmland wildlife.