High fitness costs of climate change-induced camouflage mismatch

Marketa Zimova, L. Scott Mills, J. Joshua Nowak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic climate change has created myriad stressors that threaten to cause local extinctions if wild populations fail to adapt to novel conditions. We studied individual and population-level fitness costs of a climate change-induced stressor: camouflage mismatch in seasonally colour molting species confronting decreasing snow cover duration. Based on field measurements of radiocollared snowshoe hares, we found strong selection on coat colour molt phenology, such that animals mismatched with the colour of their background experienced weekly survival decreases up to 7%. In the absence of adaptive response, we show that these mortality costs would result in strong population-level declines by the end of the century. However, natural selection acting on wide individual variation in molt phenology might enable evolutionary adaptation to camouflage mismatch. We conclude that evolutionary rescue will be critical for hares and other colour molting species to keep up with climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-307
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Camouflage
  • Climate change
  • Evolutionary adaptation
  • Evolutionary rescue
  • Fitness
  • Molt phenology
  • Natural selection
  • Phenological mismatch
  • Snow cover
  • Snowshoe hare


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