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Changes in relative abundance of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) across a 265-year gradient of boreal forest succession

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Understory regeneration within canopy gaps in old-growth boreal forests may provide suitable habitat for wildlife typically associated with early-seral stages, leading to an increase in their abundance in late succession. We surveyed a chronosequence of postfire (17–265 years) and postharvest (3–63 years) stands in Canada’s eastern boreal forest to determine whether snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) followed a bimodal abundance distribution with stand age that reflects changes in food and cover during postdisturbance succession. A strong peak in relative hare abundance occurred during the first 80 years of succession, with highest faecal pellet densities observed between 40 and 50 years after disturbance. Changes in hare abundance during this period were similar among fire- and clearcut-origin stands and closely tracked changes in lateral cover and vertical cover. Pellet density increased again in stands >180 years. Variation in hare abundance during late succession was partially mediated by gap dynamics, with highest pellet densities in stands occupied by an intermediate proportion of mortality-origin canopy gaps. Hares thus undergo rapid changes in abundance during early succession followed by a much longer period of subtle changes in density as stands develop old-growth structure. Shifting forest age-class distribution induced by forest management could therefore significantly alter regional spatiotemporal dynamics of snowshoe hares.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: NSERC-Université Laval Industrial Research Chair in Silviculture and Wildlife, Département de biologie, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada. 2: Département des sciences du bois et de la forêt, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada.

Publication date: October 27, 2011

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