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From issue:   Issue:   British Wildlife 29.4 April 2018

The Irish Hare: from the ice age to the present

By - Neil Reid

The Irish Hare is classed as a distinctive subspecies of Mountain Hare, but arguably it deserves to be recognised as a full species. Unlike its relatives, this hare inhabits lowland areas, and has historically thrived in Ireland’s lush pastures. The Irish Hare has declined as agricultural intensification has decreased the suitability of its favoured grasslands, and it is now facing a growing threat from the invasive European Brown Hare. Neil Reid provides a comprehensive overview of the subspecies and explains the challenges that it currently faces.

The Irish Hare Lepus timidus hibernicus is a subspecies of Mountain Hare L. timidus which colonised Ireland during the last ice age (Montgomery et al. 2014). It probably arrived via a southerly landmass, now submerged below sea level on the continental shelf to the south-west. Cave fossils support its presence as early as 28,000 years before present (YBP), while molecular genetic analyses suggest that its ancestors split from other Mountain Hares as early as 363,000 YBP, and also reveal the subspecies to be genetically distinct, possessing a greater number of unique genes than any other population (Hughes et al. 2006).

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"British Wildlife is the pulsating heart of the UK nature conservation movement."

Matthew Oates, National Trust

"The most important and informative publication on wildlife of our times"

Michael McCarthy, The Independent

"Packed with readable, thoughtful, up to date articles; written by ecologists and naturalists for ecologists and naturalists"

Nick Baker, Presenter and Naturalist