Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Lepus europaeus
(European hare)

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Datasheet

Lepus europaeus (European hare)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 27 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Lepus europaeus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • European hare
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The brown or European hare (L. europaeus) is a highly adaptable medium-sized mammal, commonly 3.8-4 kg in weight with the exception of some individuals reaching 5 kg, although there is much regional and sexual...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Lepus europaeus (brown or European hare); close view of an adult, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
TitleAdult
CaptionLepus europaeus (brown or European hare); close view of an adult, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
Copyright©Silviu Petrovan-2011 - All Rights Reserved
Lepus europaeus (brown or European hare); close view of an adult, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
AdultLepus europaeus (brown or European hare); close view of an adult, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.©Silviu Petrovan-2011 - All Rights Reserved
Lepus europaeus (brown or European hare); two adults, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
TitleAdult
CaptionLepus europaeus (brown or European hare); two adults, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
Copyright©Silviu Petrovan-2011 - All Rights Reserved.
Lepus europaeus (brown or European hare); two adults, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.
AdultLepus europaeus (brown or European hare); two adults, feeding in a field margin. Wykeham, North Yorkshire, England. May, 2011.©Silviu Petrovan-2011 - All Rights Reserved.

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778

Preferred Common Name

  • European hare

Other Scientific Names

  • Formerly regarded as Lepus capensis Linnaeus, 1758

International Common Names

  • English: brown hare; European hare

Local Common Names

  • : common hare
  • France: lièvre européen
  • Germany: feldhase
  • Ireland: giorria gallda

Summary of Invasiveness

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The brown or European hare (L. europaeus) is a highly adaptable medium-sized mammal, commonly 3.8-4 kg in weight with the exception of some individuals reaching 5 kg, although there is much regional and sexual variation (Frylestam, 1980; Jennings et al., 2006). It is an important quarry and prey species that has been widely introduced by humans from its original range in continental Europe and has successfully established populations in South Sweden, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, several Mediterranean and tropical islands as well as Ireland. In its native distribution it occupies a broad range of habitats including varied farmland, marshes, saltmarshes, woodland, alpine grasslands and coastal dunes. It can reach substantial densities and where introduced it can cause significant agricultural damage, often due to reduced abundance of favoured food plants (e.g. weeds, wild grasses). It can compete or hybridise with native fauna.

It is considered an important agricultural pest in several countries, such as Australia, where it is listed under the Australian Pest Animal Strategy Vertebrate Pest Series 1 (APAS). However, it is in decline over most of its native European range and is nationally red-listed in Norway, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (IUCN Least Concern, Appendix 3 Bern Convention, priority BAP species in the UK).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Lagomorpha
  •                         Family: Leporidae
  •                             Genus: Lepus
  •                                 Species: Lepus europaeus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The European or brown hare (Lepus europaeusPallas, 1778) was previously regarded as a geographically separated conspecific form of the African Cape hare (Lepus capensis, Linnaeus, 1758). Numerous subspecies have been described in Europe (L. europaeus carpathus, L. europaeus creticus, L. europaeus cyrensis, L.europaeus ghigii, L.europaeusmeridiei, L.europaeusniethammeri, L.europaeusparnassius, L.europaeus rhodius, L.europaeustranssylvanicus) based on phenotypical differences but they are of questionable taxonomical value and generally not supported by molecular data (Stamatis et al., 2008). 

Description

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The adult hare is a medium sized mammal, about the size of a domestic cat, with considerable plasticity in size and fur coloration. It has distinctive long ears and hind legs and large hind feet which produce a typical hare footprint in snow. Brown hares from England, often referred to as Lepus europaeus occidentalis, are generally smaller than European continental individuals which commonly reach 3.8-4 kg (Frylestam, 1980Jennings et al., 2006). The adult head and body length can measure from 400-700 mm, tail length 35-120 mm and individuals can weigh from 2-7 kg; females are often larger and heavier than males (Macdonald and Barret, 1995;Page et al., 2008). The upper parts of the coat are usually brown, tawny or greyish brown, the belly and underside of the tail are pure white and the tips of the ears and the upper part of the tail are black (Flux, 1990). Colour usually changes from a brown summer pelage to a somewhat greyer and thicker winter pelage. The long whiskers on the nasal pads, muzzle, cheeks, and above the eyes are easily noticeable and provide tactile sense. Flux (1990) provides detailed morphological measurements and descriptions of brown hares from New Zealand, originally introduced from England.

Leverets (the young, less than a year old) are born fully furred, with their eyes open. They closely resemble the adults but as they grow the dark underfur becomes more visible which gives them a “duskier appearance” (Flux, 1990).

Distribution

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Due to its adaptability and importance as a game species the brown hare has been the subject of extensive translocations and human introductions currently resulting in one of the most widespread distributions of any mammal species worldwide. These introductions most likely began in prehistoric times but only reached their peak in the late nineteenth century.

The native distribution of the species includes most of Europe except the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean region to western Asia, and Asia Minor. In other parts of Europe, notably Scandinavia, Iberian Peninsula and southern Italy, other species of hares (Lepus timidus, L. corsicanus, L. granatensis and L. castroviejoi) occupy these environments. In the eastern part of its range, the brown hare has expanded both naturally and aided by direct successive and large scale introductions to Western and Eastern Siberia and the Far Eastern parts of Russia. Its expansion has resulted in the displacement of native mountain hares over much of southern Sweden, parts of southern Finland and parts of Ireland. Carvaggi et al. (2017) predict that this expansion at the expense of mountain hares will continue as climate changes increase the probability of geographic overlap and interspecific interaction.  

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

ArmeniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Khorozyan, 2003
AzerbaijanWidespreadNative Not invasive Gortazar et al., 2007
Georgia (Republic of)WidespreadNative Not invasive Bukhnikashvili and Kandaurov, 2004
IranLocalisedNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005
IraqLocalisedNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005
IsraelLocalisedNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005
JordanLocalisedNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005
SyriaLocalisedNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005
TurkeyWidespreadNative Not invasive Hoffman and Smith, 2005

Africa

MadagascarAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1932Fraguglione, 1963Unknown number introduced on the main island from former Czechoslovakia but died soon after - potentially due to climate and predation
RéunionAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1933Fraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990Hares from Alsace in France introduced but failed to establish a population probably due to predation from dogs

North America

CanadaLocalisedIntroduced1912Fraguglione, 1963; Long, 2003
-OntarioWidespreadIntroduced1912Fraguglione, 1963; Long, 2003Introduced from a stock of nine individuals from Germany into Brantford, Brant County. Has spread and is locally abundant
USALocalisedIntroduced1888Fraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990Several introductions in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, etc. between 1888 and 1940s. Locally abundant around the Hudson Valley
-ConnecticutLocalisedIntroduced1893Fraguglione, 1963First known introduction at Milbrook
-HawaiiAbsent, unreliable recordIntroducedFraguglione, 1963Small group of hares of Russian origin reported on islets of Oahu but by 1963 this could not be confirmed. Probably confusion with European rabbits
-MassachusettsAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedFraguglione, 1963Introduced between 1920-1925 in Berkshire County but by 1960 it seems to have become extinct
-MichiganLocalisedIntroducedFraguglione, 1963Dispersal from Ontario. Some populations in 1960s but not abundant or widespread
-MinnesotaAbsent, invalid recordFraguglione, 1963
-New JerseyAbsent, invalid recordIntroduced1888Fraguglione, 1963; Long, 2003Introduced in 1888 to Jobstown but might have become extinct by 1960s
-New YorkLocalised1893IntroducedFraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990Several successive introductions from Hungary from 1893-1911. By 1915 around 3000 were hunted each year
-PennsylvaniaAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedFraguglione, 1963; Long, 2003Unclear origin, potentially arriving by 1903 from New York state but also introduced in 1920s into Humelstown. Seems to have become extinct by 1960s
-VermontAbsent, invalid recordIntroducedFraguglione, 1963No known introduction. Potentially some individuals spreading from nearby states
-WisconsinAbsent, unreliable recordFraguglione, 1963

Central America and Caribbean

BarbadosLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Fraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990Introduced from England, date unknown. Some damage reported on sugar cane and sweet potatoes crops
GrenadaAbsent, unreliable recordFraguglione, 1963
GuadeloupeAbsent, unreliable recordFraguglione, 1963

South America

ArgentinaWidespreadIntroduced1888 Invasive Grigera and Rapoport, 1983; Bonino et al., 2010Widespread and very common throughout the country with around 6 million individuals shot annually
BrazilLocalised2010IntroducedGrigera and Rapoport, 1983; Bonino et al., 2010Expanding rapidly towards the north in the central part of Southern Brazil. Generally regarded as a pest
-Minas GeraisLocalised2010IntroducedBonino et al., 2010
-ParanaLocalised2010IntroducedBonino et al., 2010
-Rio Grande do SulLocalised1983IntroducedGrigera and Rapoport, 1983
-Santa CatarinaLocalised1983IntroducedGrigera and Rapoport, 1983
-Sao PauloLocalised2010Bonino et al., 2010
ChileWidespreadIntroduced1896 Invasive Grigera and Rapoport, 1983; Bonino et al., 2010Introduced from Germany to Southern Chile. Occupies the entire country except the Tierra del Fuego island. Regarded as a pest
Falkland IslandsLocalisedIntroduced1740Flux, 1990; Otley et al., 2008Introduced as game animal, now present on East Falklands
ParaguayLocalisedIntroducedBonino et al., 2010Southeastern Paraguay is occupied by the species self-dispersing from Argentina and Brazil
PeruLocalised2010IntroducedBonino et al., 2010Self-expansion from Bolivia in several southern counties along the Pacific
UruguayWidespread2010IntroducedBonino et al., 2010All available habitats are occupied by the species

Europe

AlbaniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
AndorraWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
AustriaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
BelarusWidespreadNative Not invasive Merkusheva, 1960
BelgiumWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Bosnia-HercegovinaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
BulgariaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
CroatiaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
CyprusWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Czech RepublicWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Czechoslovakia (former)WidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
DenmarkWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
EstoniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Finland
-Finland (mainland)PresentSyrjälä et al., 2005
FranceWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
GermanyWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
GreeceWidespreadNative Not invasive Masseti, 2003; Masseti and Marinis, 2008Widely introduced to Mediterranean islands, became extinct in several of them but has persisted in others, notably Crete, and Rhodes
HungaryWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
IrelandLocalised2011Introduced1852 Invasive Fraguglione, 1963; Reid, 2011; Caravaggi et al., 2015; Caravaggi et al., 201614 introductions from England between 1849-1890s first at Castel Martyr, Cork. Most went extinct but some were successful notably in Tyrone and East Donegal. Expansion of range and dietary overlap (competition) with Irish hare
ItalyWidespreadNative Not invasive Lo et al., 1997; Angelici and Luiselli, 2001; Pietri et al., 2011Repeated introductions in Sicily and Sardinia have failed (La Valvo, 1998; Angelici and Luiselli, 2001). Widespread hybridisation threatens the genetic integrity of the endemic Lepus corsicanus
LatviaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
LiechtensteinWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
LithuaniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
LuxembourgWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
MacedoniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
MoldovaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
MontenegroWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
NetherlandsWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
NorwayLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Thulin, 2003Introduced successfully for hunting in South Sweden and parts of Norway
PolandWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
RomaniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Russian FederationWidespreadNativeFlux, 1990; Neronov et al., 2008Has recently expanded the geographic distribution in Siberia helped both by introductions and self-spreading. Native in Western Russia
-Russian Far EastLocalised1960sIntroducedLong, 2003Several introductions in 1963-1965
-Western SiberiaLocalised1935NativeFlux, 1990Several introductions and self-propagation
SerbiaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
SlovakiaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
SloveniaWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
SpainLocalised
SwedenLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Thulin et al., 2006Introduced in South Sweden for hunting in 1800's and has expanded north since then. Invasive range predicted to continue to expand. It hybridizes there with the native Lepus timidus
SwitzerlandWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
UKWidespread2011Introduced Invasive Yalden, 1999Presumed to be introduced in pre-Roman or Roman times in England for hunting and food
UkraineWidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Yugoslavia (former)WidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)WidespreadNative Not invasive Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999

Oceania

AustraliaIntroduced1859-1864 Invasive Fraguglione, 1963Several introductions from England to South-East Australia by the Acclimatization Society of Victoria
-South AustraliaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Jarman and Stott, 2008
-TasmaniaLocalisedIntroduced1854Fraguglione, 1963
-VictoriaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Jarman and Stott, 2008
New ZealandWidespreadIntroduced1851 Invasive Flux, 1990Introduced very successfully in 1851 from Philip Island, Victoria with only 6 individuals originally from England. Currently found on both North and South Islands

History of Introduction and Spread

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Brown hare populations have been introduced deliberately and successfully in Ireland, parts of Scandinavia, eastern Canada, northeastern United States, most of South America, Western and Eastern Siberia, Australia and New Zealand (Fraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990; Reid, 2011). Its introduction to the UK dates back to at least Roman times but might be considerably older, from the Bronze Age (Cowan, 2004; Yalden, 1999). Small introduced populations occur on several Mediterranean islands (Masseti and Marinis, 2008), North Sea islands and the Falkland Islands while others seem to have become extinct, such as in Reunion and Madagascar (Fraguglione, 1963). The most important reason for the widespread introductions appears to be almost entirely for hunting purposes, including in some cases for coursing with dogs. While the species amazing habitat and climate adaptability is obvious there are suggestions that human induced habitat alterations have primed different areas for hare invasion, especially the land transformations in Australia and South America where subtropical forest and areas of scrub have been replaced by cattle and sheep pastures (Stott, 2008; Bonino et al., 2010). In some cases brown hare introductions have continued well into the 1960s and even later, typically for restocking hunting areas in Western Europe with individuals from Central and Eastern Europe.

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia England and Wales 1859-1864 Hunting, angling, sport or racing (pathway cause) Yes No Fraguglione (1963)
New Zealand England and Wales 1851 Hunting, angling, sport or racing (pathway cause) Yes No Flux (1990); Fraguglione (1963)
North America Europe 1888 Hunting, angling, sport or racing (pathway cause) Yes No Flux (1990); Fraguglione (1963)
South America 1888 Hunting, angling, sport or racing (pathway cause) Yes No Bonino et al. (2010)

Risk of Introduction

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Given their size and natural tendency to avoid human habitations and man-made structures, such as ship containers, accidental introductions of brown hares to new geographic areas are most likely impossible. Equally, the practice of deliberate introductions, including for hunting purposes, is currently widely restricted and even banned at national level in most states. However, illegal movements could still be a risk. 

The highest potential for further expansions of this species lies with progressive dispersal and colonization of new areas in Scandinavia, South America, Australia and parts of Russia (Caravaggi et al., 2017). However, it is very likely that hare presence is now a major factor in the persistence and expansion of some rare and endangered species of carnivores, both terrestrial and avian, even in the areas where it is not native, similar to the situation of the European rabbit in the UK.

Habitat

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Brown hares can be found in a great variety of habitats including most types of temperate farmland, grassland, woodland, steppe, coastal sand dunes, marshes, moorland, and sub-desert. They generally prefer open, flat landscapes, with scattered hedges or shrubs for cover and can reach substantial densities in such habitats (Flux, 1990, Mitchell-Jones et al., 1999, Cowan, 2004). In much of Europe and especially in the UK, the highest densities are reached in arable fields, often cultivated with wheat and barley (Hutchings and Harris, 1996) while in parts of South America, especially in Argentina, they seem to occupy almost all available habitats (Bonino et al., 2010). They normally avoid human habitations and only rarely enter gardens.

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Littoral
Coastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Salt marshes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Natural
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Arid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Principal habitat Natural
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Natural
Wetlands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Brown hares have 48 chromosomes. There are two major lineages, one from the Balkans and one from Anatolia (Kasapidis et al., 2005) and substructure within these lineages (Giannoulis et al., 2017). Genetic variation is comparatively low in Britain and consequently in areas where British hares have been introduced, such as New Zealand and Australia. They frequently hybridize with mountain hares (Lepus timidus - overlaps in range) but are genetically compatible with other Lepus species as well (e.g. Lepus corsicanus).

Reproductive Biology

The brown hare is a polygamous promiscuous species which can breed throughout the year. However, its main breeding season is from the end of winter to the beginning of autumn; in the Northern Hemisphere this occurs from late February until August (Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1981). In warm climate areas the species can breed without an obvious break in the season. European hares can reach puberty as early as 4-6 months and can give birth to well-developed neonates of around 100 g, covered in fur and with the eyes and ears already open. A high postnatal growth rate allows for a short nursing period and a high weight at weaning (Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1981). Hares make shallow depressions in the ground – forms – in which they rest and into which the young are born. The young, also known as leverets, then quickly disperse into the surrounding area to avoid attracting predators. Annual productivity of females varies widely, with a peak in productivity in the middle of the birth season. Mean litter size varies inversely with mean annual temperature and is around 2.7 in the UK, with 2-4 litters per year. The mean total number of young produced per female per year varies from 5-13 depending on geographic area, with a gestation period of 41-42 days.

Physiology and Phenology

Hares are mainly active during the night and at dusk and dawn periods, but activity is reduced on particularly cold nights with sub-zero temperatures. They use forms, shallow depressions in the soil surface, to take cover from predators during the day and there is evidence that they use the same forms but often in rotation, changing their position every few days, most likely to avoid leaving a very strong scent trail (Petrovan et al., 2013). In pastures, hares seem to prefer areas with tall vegetation such as improved grass or fallow land, stubble or other crops while avoiding broadleaved plantation, mixed or coniferous woodland and tall scrub (Hutchings and Harris, 1996). 

Longevity

The maximum age recorded was of a hare in Poland at 13 years old but normally they live for around 2.5-5 years and less than that in areas where they are subject to hunting. Survival of leverets and yearlings is lower than that of adults, in particular for leverets which can experience very high mortality figures due to predation, disease and bad weather. 

Activity Patterns

Hares do not hibernate. Their home ranges can vary hugely in size from 20 ha to 300 ha but they tend to be generally stable and dispersal seems entirely limited to young males in their first year of life.

Population Size and Density

Density varies widely between habitats, regions and geographical areas but can range from 3.3/100 ha in UK pastures to over 80/100 ha given suitable conditions in arable areas with predator control (Petrovan et al., 2011).

Nutrition

L. europaeus has a relatively generalist herbivorous diet, which includes a great variety of grasses, weeds and agricultural crops (cereals, beetroot etc.) over the summer, with some apparent preference for fat-rich herbs. They have the potential for diet expansion during the winter, in particular in association with high snowfall, to include tree bark and terminal shoots of several species, especially Prunus spinosa and Crataegus monogyna (Rodel et al., 2004; Reichlin et al., 2006). In areas where it was introduced it seems to maintain a very generalist diet including all plant groups and 51% of all the available species (Puig et al., 2006).

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
Adult
All Stages

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Tolerated Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
60 55

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 10 22
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0 18

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Vulpes vulpes Predator All Stages not specific N

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Both in their native and in large parts of their introduced range, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is considered to be the major predator for this species, in particular affecting the young (Cowan, 2004; Reynolds et al., 2010). However, the brown hare is hunted by a wide variety of predators and it is probably a very important source of food for several rare and declining species both in its European range and in introduced areas, in particular in South America (Bonino et al., 2010).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Brown hares normally stick to a territory although they do not actively defend it against conspecifics and home ranges often have substantial overlap (Petrovan et al., 2013). Dispersal is largely restricted to young males and distances can vary from several hundred meters to several kilometers. Rates of dispersal in new suitable areas in South America were calculated at between 10 and 37 km per year (Bonino et al., 2010) and 60km per year in Australia (Jarman and Johnson, 1977).

Intentional Introduction

Deliberate multiple introductions have occurred both within and outside of its native range for hunting purposes (Fraguglione, 1963; Flux, 1990; Bonino et al., 2010).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Acclimatization societiesDeliberate, for shooting purposes Yes Yes Fraguglione, 1963
Hunting, angling, sport or racingDeliberate multiple introductions both within native range and outside of it Yes Bonino et al., 2010; Flux, 1990; Fraguglione, 1963

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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Economic impacts for brown hare grazing have received much less attention than for other, similar, introduced species such as European rabbits, and as such very little evidence exists on clearly quantifiable economic damages. This is most likely a consequence of the fact that hares do not normally produce exceptionally dense populations as they are not gregarious and only occasionally gather in groups. Even at the very high end of population density at over 40-50 hares/ha the impacts are not necessarily obvious, especially not in grasslands. Therefore, it has become very difficult to separate their impact from other existing grazing species. In much of their range, and especially in the UK, farmers tend to perceive them as pests only in arable habitats or in orchards and they control the hares by shooting. It still represents a very important quarry species in both its native range and elsewhere, in particular in South America, where millions of hares are annually shot and an important proportion is exported to countries in the EU (Puig et al., 2007).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

The full ecological impact of brown hares as an invasive species remains poorly understood (Bonino et al., 2010). For example, in the more delicate high altitude pasture habitats in New Zealand the effect of grazing is apparent in some areas but not evident in others. There is also some evidence that hares could actually benefit grasslands in areas where they graze on exotic species of plants (Wong and Hickling, 1999). 

Impact on Biodiversity 

Brown hares are recognized as an important agricultural and forestry pest in some areas where they have been introduced and also as ecologically damaging species through competition and hybridization with native species and potential overgrazing of rare plants communities. This is especially the case in parts of South America, Australia and New Zealand (Flux, 1990; Bonino et al., 2010). There is direct evidence of hybridisation (and, hence, competition for mates) with mountain hare species in Finland, Sweden and Ireland (Hughes et al., 2009; Levänen et al., 2015; Caravaggi et al., 2017). Widespread hybridisation not only causes interspecific competition but threatens the genetic integrity of a number of mountain hare species. 

There is little clear and quantifiable evidence about the exact impacts of brown hares on native vegetation communities and in general on the full ecological impact of this species in the areas where it was introduced (Wong and Hickling, 1999; Bonino et al., 2010). 

There is wide dietary overlap between brown hares and numerous other herbivore species, particularly in South America, which suggests that there is a significant potential for competition with native fauna including the IUCN listed threatened species; guanaco (Lama guanicoe), plain and mountain vizcachas (Lagidium viscacia and Lagostomus maximus), maras (Dolichotis patagonum) (Puig et al., 2006) and Chacoan Brown brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira) (Kufner et al., 2008).

Some positive benefits may be associated with the brown hare. Both in the areas where it is native and where it was introduced it can be a major source of food for various endangered and rare carnivore species and birds of prey, including Persian leopard in Armenia, puma in Chile and golden and imperial eagles in Central Europe (Bonino et al., 2010; Khorozyan, 2003).  

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Dolichotis patagonumNT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)ArgentinaCompetition - monopolizing resources
Lepus timidusLC (IUCN red list: Least concern) LC (IUCN red list: Least concern)Austria; Sweden; UKCompetition - monopolizing resources; Hybridization; PathogenicThulin, 2003

Social Impact

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No clear information currently exists but it is likely that it represents an important food source in parts of its South American range (Bonino et al., 2010). While the original introductions to Northern Ireland in the 1800s were for field sports, the origins of the current population are unknown, as are the reasons for its re-introduction. It is also not known whether the species is used in organised coursing events.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Host damage
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Damages animal/plant products
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Hybridization
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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The economic benefits for the species lie in the shooting activities and the commercialization of carcasses, especially in the areas where it was introduced such as South America. In Argentina, 2.5 million hares are shot annually and between 100-200 tons exported from Chile and Uruguay (Bonino et al., 2010). It is an important and prized quarry species in the UK and much of Europe although not to the same extent as gamebirds, such as pheasants. 

Uses List

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General

  • Research model
  • Sport (hunting, shooting, fishing, racing)

Human food and beverage

  • Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)

Materials

  • Skins/leather/fur

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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The species could be confused with the genetically related Cape hare (Lepus capensis) or with the other European species of hares including Mountain hare (Lepus timidus), Irish Hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus), Corsican or Apennine hare (Lepus corsicanus), Iberian hare (Lepus granatensis) and Broom hare (Lepus castroviejoi). However, once geographic distribution is taken into account many of the confusions should largely be avoided. External differences are typically small and based on morphological measurements and colouration. Several subspecies of L. europaeus have been defined at different times (Hoffmann and Smith, 2005) but there is uncertainty about the validity of several or most of these subspecies given that they could be regarded as geographic phenotypic variations. The UK population, although introduced from northern Europe is often described as Lepus europaeus occidentalis based on its smaller size and somewhat different pelt coloration. Genetic analysis can provide clear indications of hybridization with other sympatric species, especially L. timidus (Thulin et al., 2003).   

Prevention and Control

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Very little effort is being made to prevent further spread of this species except localized control via the interdiction of further introductions and the widespread control of populations via shooting. Trapping and poisoning are possible control methods but much rarer. There are no eradication programs currently for this species but there are suggestions over the possibility and need to undertake eradication efforts in Ireland to prevent competition and hybridization with the native Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) (Reid et al., 2011).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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There is currently very little information on the full economic and environmental impacts of this species in much of its introduced range, especially in Australia, New Zealand and South America.

References

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Caravaggi A, Zaccaroni M, Riga F, Schai-Braun SC, Dick JT, Montgomery WI, Reid N, 2016. An invasive-native mammalian species replacement process captured by camera trap survey random encounter models. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 1;2(1):45-58.

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Hughes M, Reid N, Montgomery I, Prodohl P, 2009. Verification of hybridisation between introduced European and native Irish hares. Report prepared by the Natural Heritage Research Partnership, Quercus for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Northern Ireland, UK.

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Cowan DP, 2004. An overview of the current status and protection of the Brown Hare (Lepus Europaeus) in the UK; A report prepared for European Wildlife Division. London, UK: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 1-30 pp. http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/lepusewrevised_tcm6-4627.pdf

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Kasapidis P, Suchentrunk F, Magoulasa A, Kotoulasa G, 2005. The shaping of mitochondrial DNA phylogeographic patterns of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) under the combined influence of Late Pleistocene climatic fluctuations and anthropogenic translocations. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 34:55-66 pp.

Khorozyan I, 2003. Habitat preferences by the endangered Persian leopard (Panthera pardussaxicolor Pocock, 1927) in Armenia. Zool Middle East, 30:25-36.

Levänen R, Kunnasranta M, Pohjoismäki J, 2015. Abundance and distribution of hare hybrids in Finland. In: Angerbjörn A, Dalén L, Elmhagen B, Werdelin L (eds) Proceedings of the 7th European congress of mammalogy. Stockholm University, Stockholm, 54 pp.

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Rodel HG, Volkl W, Kilias H, 2004. Winter browsing of brown hares: evidence for diet breadth expansion. Mammalian Biology, 69(6):410-419.

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Links to Websites

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Organizations

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UK: Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull, Filey Road, Scarborough

Northern Ireland: QUERCUS - Biodiversity and Conservation Biology Centre, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University,, Belfast, http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/Quercus/

Contributors

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23/04/13 Original text by:

Silviu Petrovan, Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, Scarborough Campus, Filey Road, University of Hull, UK

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