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article imageMapping hares and rabbits over Easter

By Tim Sandle     Apr 3, 2015 in Science
Scientists in the U.K. are asking people to report sightings of rabbits and hares as part of a conservation effort. Little is known about the exact numbers found in the British Isles.
Biologists are keen to know the numbers of different hares and rabbits in the U.K., and how they are spread regionally. Such information will feed into conservation projects. Both types of animal have been in decline. Hare populations have generally fallen while rabbits have been hit hard by the disease myxomatosis, caused by the myxoma virus.
In terms of the differences between hares and rabbits, hares are larger, and have longer hind legs then rabbits and longer ears with characteristic black markings. In contrast, a rabbit's fur coat remains its color year-round, while hares change color from grayish brown in summer to white in winter.
To collect information people are encouraged to tally numbers and to take photographs. Results can be uploaded onto a special webpage hosted by The Mammal Society.
Discussing the project with the BBC, Dr Fiona Mathews, senior lecturer in mammalian biology and chair of the Mammal Society, told the BBC: "We have very poor information on rabbits and hares - and it's important to know if numbers are going up or down.
"They are part of the ecosystem and lots of other animals depend on them, either through grazing of their habitat or as a food source for foxes or birds of prey."
She added: "The project fits well with Easter because during this time of the year the animals are easier to spot in spring when vegetation is low and the breeding season is under way."
The project is an example of "citizen science." Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or non-professional scientists. A long-standing example is the Angela Marmont Centre for U.K. Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum in London. Here, members of the public are encouraged to drop off interesting specimens that they have found from simply walking about the countryside.
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