Food preferences of the European hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas) on a fescue grassland
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Diet of the European hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas) living on a fescue (Festuca novae-zelandiae) grassland in central high country Canterbury was examined using microscopical gut sample analysis. Availability of food plants was estimated by a monthly vegetation survey. Major dietary items were analysed for calorific value, neutral detergent fibre content (digestibility) and secondary metabolites (phenols, condensed tannins and monomeric tannins). Hares in this area relied heavily on Hieracium pilosella as the major constituent of their diet. Grasses and tussocks made up the majority of the remaining food. The diet of females, males, juveniles and adults were all significantly different. Diet also varied throughout the year, although it largely reflected the availability of the various food items, except Rhacomitrium lanuginosum which was avoided. Food plant selection did not correlate with calorific value or secondary metabolite content. However, there was some correlation between the neutral detergent fibre content or digestibility of the plants measured and their level of consumption by the hares. It appears from the results of this study that the diet of hares in the study area is influenced predominantly by the availability of the various potential food plants but is also influenced by the digestibility of those plants available.