Colour moult phenology and camouflage mismatch in polymorphic populations of Arctic foxes

Marketa Zimova, Dick Moberg, L. Scott Mills, Andreas J. Dietz, Anders Angerbjörn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Species that seasonally moult from brown to white to match snowy backgrounds become conspicuous and experience increased predation risk as snow cover duration declines. Long-term adaptation to camouflage mismatch in a changing climate might occur through phenotypic plasticity in colour moult phenology and or evolutionary shifts in moult rate or timing. Also, adaptation may include evolutionary shifts towards winter brown phenotypes that forgo the winter white moult. Most studies of these processes have occurred in winter white populations, with little attention to polymorphic populations with sympatric winter brown and winter white morphs. Here, we used remote camera traps to record moult phenology and mismatch in two polymorphic populations of Arctic foxes in Sweden over 2 years. We found that the colder, more northern population moulted earlier in the autumn and later in the spring. Next, foxes moulted earlier in the autumn and later in the spring during colder and snowier years. Finally, white foxes experienced relatively low camouflage mismatch while blue foxes were mismatched against snowy backgrounds most of the autumn through the spring. Because the brown-on-white mismatch imposes no evident costs, we predict that as snow duration decreases, increasing blue morph frequencies might help facilitate species persistence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220334
JournalBiology Letters
Volume18
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 16 2022

Keywords

  • arctic fox
  • camouflage
  • climate change
  • phenological mismatch
  • seasonal moult
  • snow cover

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