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Parasite-mediated reduction in fecundity of mountain hares.

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  • Research Article


Mountain hare populations in Scotland exhibit regular 10 year fluctuations in abundance. Simple models of host-parasite population dynamics suggest that parasite-mediated reductions in host fecundity can cause a transition from stable to cyclic host population dynamics. We tested the hypothesis that parasites reduce hare fecundity by experimentally reducing parasite burdens and recording female survival, body condition and fecundity. We captured 41 adult female hares in October 2002; 22 were treated with Ivermectin to remove parasites and 19 were left untreated as controls. The treated and untreated hares were culled in May 2003 together with a second control group of nine unhandled hares. Treatment with Ivermectin significantly reduced the abundance of Trichostrongylus retortaeformis and increased-the fecundity of the hares, but had no measurable effect on body condition or over-winter survival. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that parasites may be a contributory cause of cycles in populations of mountain hares.

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