European hare (Lepus europaeus) invasion ecology: Implication for the conservation of the endemic Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus)

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Abstract

European hare Lepus europaeus populations have undergone recent declines but the species has successfully naturalised in many countries outside its native range. It was introduced to Ireland during the mid-late nineteenth century for field sport and is now well established in Northern Ireland. The native Irish hare Lepus timidus hibernicus is an endemic subspecies of mountain hare L. timidus and has attracted major conservation concern following a long-term population decline during the twentieth century and is one of the highest priority species for conservation action in Ireland. Little is known about the European hare in Ireland or whether it poses a significant threat to the native mountain hare subspecies by compromising its ecological security or genetic integrity. We review the invasion ecology of the European hare and examine evidence for interspecific competition with the mountain hare for habitat space and food resources, interspecific hybridisation, disease and parasite transmission and possible impacts of climate change. We also examine the impact that introduced hares can have on native non-lagomorph species. We conclude that the European hare is an emerging and significant threat to the conservation status of the native Irish hare. Invasive mammal species have been successfully eradicated from Ireland before and immediate action is often the only opportunity for cost-effective eradication. An urgent call is issued for further research whilst the need for a European hare invasive Species Action Plan (iSAP) and Eradication strategy are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-569
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Invasions
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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