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The effect of experimental removal of red foxes Vulpes vulpes on spring density of brown hares Lepus europaeus in western Poland

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Red foxesVulpes vulpes (Linnaeus, 1758) were experimentally removed in two nearby areas located in western Poland to verify the hypothesis about the limiting impact of their predation on the low-density population of brown haresLepus europaeus (Pallas, 1778) (4.4-10.6 ind./km2 in late autumn). In 1996/1997–2001/2002 foxes were culled (mainly in autumn and winter) in the reduction area (32 km2), whereas in the control area (34 km2) intensive culling was carried out only in 2000/2001–2001/2002. Indices of fox and hare spring densities were estimated using spotlight counts, as mean numbers of individuals observed per 10 km of the counting route. Annual changes in the fox density indices were negatively correlated with the bag of foxes, and annual changes in the hare density indices were negatively related to the annual changes in fox density indices. The fox density indices were significantly lower in the reduction area than in the control one only in 2000–2001 (2.8 times, on average), and in the same years, the hare population responded with higher density (1.7 times, on average). The hare responses took place without time delay, which suggests that the changes in fox abundance affected the situation of hares primarily in the autumn-winter season.
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