From 1997–99 European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) population densities were estimated by spotlight surveys within different areas in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. These areas showed a wide variation in local hare population densities. In addition, red fox (Vulpes vulpes) densities were estimated in 1997 by surveys of fox dens and litters. Sera of 321 hares (shot between 1998–2000) from four study areas were examined for antibodies against European brown hare syndrome virus (EBHSV) by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Yersinia spp. (n=299) and Francisella tularensis (n=299) by western blotting, Brucella spp. by Rose Bengal test, and Toxoplasma gondii by Sabin-Feldman test (n=318). Tissue samples comprising lung, liver, spleen, kidney, heart, and adrenal glands were collected for histopathology. Liver (n=201) and spleen (n=201) samples were processed for the detection of T. gondii-antigen in tissue sections and 321 liver and spleen samples were investigated for EBHSV-antigen by ELISA. Furthermore, 116 hares were examined macro- and microscopically for lungworms. Significant negative correlations between hare and fox densities were found in spring and autumn 1997. Antibodies against EBHSV were detected in 92 of 321 (29%), against Yersinia spp. in 163 of 299 (55%), and against T. gondii in 147 of 318 (46%) hares. We evaluated the potential influence of origin and hunting season on exposure rates of hares using logistic regression analysis. A strong association between hare densities and exposure rates was observed for various agents. One hundred and eight of 201 (57%) hares were positive for T. gondii-antigen. All sera were negative for antibodies against Brucella spp. and F. tularensis and all lung samples were negative for lungworms. In conclusion, variation in red fox densities may have an impact on the hare populations examined and the infectious diseases we studied seem to play a subordinate role in the dynamics of European brown hare populations from Schleswig-Holstein.
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Vol. 39 • No. 4