Project support - Alpine mountain hares in climate change

The Fellowship is glad to have the opportunity to support the project -

alpine mountain hares in climate change with an amount about 5.000 €

The project is accompanied and co-initiated by our rotarian friend Prof. Dr. Hackländer, University of Natural Resources und Life Science, Vienna.


Alpine mountain hares in climate change

As an ice age relict, Alpine mountain hares (Lepus timidus varronis) are exposed to climate change in several ways. On the one hand, the pattern of coat colour change from brown to white in autumn and from white to brown in spring no longer matches the snow conditions. The white hare's coat colour means that it is on display during the day and at night due to the shorter period of snow and it is preyed upon by predators. On the other hand, the closely related European hare (L. europaeus) benefits from the warming and spreads to higher altitudes in the Alps. The European hare displaces the Alpine mountain hare and the two species mate in the overlap zone, resulting in fertile offspring. So things are getting tight for the Alpine mountain hare. Its options for moving to higher altitudes are limited, as snow remains there for longer, but due to the scarcity of soil, there is no vegetation available that would allow it to survive. Alternatively, the Alpine mountain hare could adapt its coat colour change and shorten the white phase. However, it is unknown whether the genetic diversity in the population and the number of hares is large enough to enable such an adaptation.

The mountain hare is not only an important game species for the central Alps in some regions, the hunting of which is both traditional and cultural, but also a model species that strikingly demonstrates the effects of climate change on biodiversity.
In an ongoing project in Grisons, possible adaptation strategies for the Alpine mountain hare are to be analysed in more detail.

The aim is to ...
- .... to calculate the population trends of the two hare species and their hybrids in the study area.
- .... to model the distribution of Alpine mountain hares, European hares and their hybrids across the entire Alpine region.
- .... to deduce where unstable areas occur in the entire Alpine region where the Alpine mountain hare is at risk of disappearing.

To fulfill these tasks, hare faeces are collected along transects across the altitudinal zones and genetically analysed. This provides information that can be used for kinship analyses and modelling of population development and population growth rates.

The project has already been running for four years, but in order to achieve a critical sample for solid scientific analyses, a further four years of data must be collected. The calculated costs for this total 120,000 euros. Of this, 90,000 euros have already been provided by the Grisons Hunting and Fishing Office, the German Society for Mammalian Biology, the Basel Foundation for Biological Research and the German Wildlife Foundation. There are still 30,000 euros to go and it would be great if the International Rotary Fellowship of Hunters could contribute to this.

Prof Dr Klaus Hackländer, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, RC Vienna-Ring and project initiator

Go back