Zellweger-Fischer, J., M. Kéry & G. Pasinelli (2011)

    Population trends of brown hares in Switzerland: The role of land-use and ecological compensation areas.

    Further information

    Biol. Conserv. 144: 1364–1373



    Over the last decades, agricultural land-use practices have been intensified throughout Europe. As a consequence of the resulting loss of habitat heterogeneity, numerous species associated with traditional farmland have undergone severe population declines. To mitigate the negative effects of intensive agriculture on farmland biodiversity, agri-environment schemes (AES) have been adopted in various European countries since the early 1990s. The effects of AES have been evaluated for different taxa, but rarely for larger mammals like the brown hare (Lepus europaeus), a characteristic species of traditional open farmland. Using spotlight counts from 58 brown hare monitoring study sites over 17 years, we analysed the effects of land-use and several agri-environment scheme options on brown hare density in the Swiss lowland. We used open-population binomial mixture models to jointly model abundance and detection probability, there by accounting for imperfect detection of hares. Mean observed counts of brown hares in Switzerland from 1992 to 2008 suggested as light decline followed by a recovery in arable study sites, whereas a sustained decline was apparent in grassland sites. Mean detection probability ranged widely from year to year (arable: 0.33 - 0.70; grassland: 0.21 - 0.80). When accounting for imperfect detection, a population recovery was apparent in both land-use types, although hare densities remained at low levels compared to other European countries. The amount of extensively managed hay meadows seemed to have a positive effect on brown hare abundance both in arable and grassland sites. Hedgerows were also positively related to hare density, although only in arable study sites. The amount of set-asides/wildflower strips and brown hare density were related neither in arable nor in grassland sites. This result was probably caused by the fairly low percentages of this AES option in our study sites. Habitat improvements by means of AES indicate some positive effects on brown hare populations in Switzerland, but the quantity and quality of AES must still be increased. Combined with a binomial mixture model correcting for imperfect detection, spot light counts are an effective tool for estimating population trends, especially for large-scale and long-term surveys like the Swiss brown hare monitoring.\r\n Keywords: Agri-environment scheme, binomial mixture model, brown hare, detection probability, habitat improvement, monitoring