The European hare (Lepus europaeus) populations are declining throughout Europe due to intensive agriculture and hunting pressure. In Italy, information on this species is biased and focused on plain terrains, while data over mountains are scant. The study aimed to fill such a research gap, providing estimates on the population density and habitat preferences on a suboptimal mountainous environment in Italy, using the standardised pellet-count method. One protected area and two hunting areas were surveyed between June and August 2017, with 117 plots randomly checked for faecal pellets. The estimated density on mountainous territories ranged from 16 to 23 individuals/km2, which resulted high for a non-favourable environment. Land cover was the most important predictor in the model, with arable lands and areas with sparse vegetation as the preferred land use. Habitat selection drove the altitudinal distribution of the hare, with high elevations preferred over lower altitude. Steepest slope and NE, SW, and West-faced plots were displaying less probability to find pellets. The density in the protected and hunting areas was similar, with the hunting ban being the least significant predictor. Despite the climate and altitude, the environmental heterogeneity of the Italian Apennine might offer a good-quality habitat for the European hare.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2