Predator-prey relationships are of general interest in ecology and have been studied extensively. They are also of interest for effective management and recovery of prey populations. However, quantification of these relationships in the field has remained difficult. We analysed the impact of the predation of red fox Vulpes vulpes on brown hare Lepus europaeus, grey partridge Perdix perdix and rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus using yearly hunting bag records as population indicators in eight German provinces over a period of 41 years. Bag records were tested for deviation from properties of suitable population indicators. We quantified the association between prey and predator populations within the context of other variables such as weather and long-term trends. We used an overall regression model for each prey population and discussed three statistical approaches accounting for the time series structure of the data. Models for all prey species populations display a good fit. The fox population has a significant negative association to the hare population in all models. The results for the rabbit population show only a small effect of the fox population, though it is not significant. The effect of the fox population on the partridge population cannot be clearly distinguished from a general trend. Additionally, there is a strong long-term trend in the hare and partridge populations. This could be due to major changes in the agricultural landscapes over the last decades. It is important to note that this trend is much stronger than the association to the fox population. Our study suggests that habitat improvement could be much more effective in restoring prey populations than fox control due to the minor interactions between the fox and the prey populations.
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Vol. 16 • No. 1