Zoological Studies

Vol. 54, 2015

Diet adaptability by a generalist herbivore: the case of brown hare in a Mediterranean agroecosystem

Christos Sokos1,2*, Konstantinos Andreadis1 and Nikolaos Papageorgiou1

1Laboratory of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, School of Forestry and Natural Environment, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki GR-54124, Hellas (Greece)
2Research Division, Hunting Federation of Macedonia and Thrace, Ethnikis, Antistasis 173-175, GR-55134 Thessaloniki, Hellas

Background: Brown hares (Lepus europaeus) were collected before and after autumn rains from a mixed farmland and scrubland area. The age and sex of each specimen were determined, and microhistological technique was applied to analyze the stomach contents.
Hares consumed a higher number of plant species in comparison with other studies in continental European farmlands. A different pattern in diet of hare was found, where from a partial herbivory, frugivory, and granivory during the dry period, hares turn to primarily herbivory during the wet period. An expansion of diet breadth and an increase in food consumption was found in the dry season. Farming contributes to the enrichment of diet especially during the dry season. Diet composition was differed between ages, but no significant difference was found between the two sexes.
Conclusions: Hare is a facultative generalist herbivore that adapts its diet to the seasonal vegetation changes. In Mediterranean ecosystems, the seeds, fruits, and grapes are important additions to the diet. Results suggest that during the dry period juveniles cannot exploit all the available food resources, such as fruits and seeds, as effectively as adults.

Key words: Herbivore; Feeding ecology; Dietary breadth; Forage quality; Dietary specialization.

*Correspondence: E-mail: sokos@vet.uth.gr