Snow-mediated plasticity does not prevent camouflage mismatch

Alexander V. Kumar, Marketa Zimova, James R. Sparks, L. Scott Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Global reduction in snow cover duration is one of the most consistent and widespread climate change outcomes. Declining snow duration has severe negative consequences for diverse taxa including seasonally color molting species, which rely on snow for camouflage. However, phenotypic plasticity may facilitate adaptation to reduced snow duration. Plastic responses could occur in the color molt phenology or through behavior that minimizes coat color mismatch or its consequences. We quantified molt phenology of 200 wild snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), and measured microhabitat choice and local snow cover. Similar to other studies, we found that hares did not show behavioral plasticity to minimize coat color mismatch via background matching; instead they preferred colder, snow free areas regardless of their coat color. Furthermore, hares did not behaviorally mitigate the negative consequences of mismatch by choosing resting sites with denser vegetation cover when mismatched. Importantly, we demonstrated plasticity in the initiation and the rate of the molt and established the direct effect of snow on molt phenology; greater snow cover was associated with whiter hares and this association was not due to whiter hares preferring snowier areas. However, despite the observed snow-mediated plasticity in molt phenology, camouflage mismatch with white hares on brown snowless ground persisted and was more frequent during early snowmelt. Thus, we find no evidence that phenotypic plasticity in snowshoe hares is sufficient to facilitate adaptive rescue to camouflage mismatch under climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-310
Number of pages10
JournalOecologia
Volume194
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Keywords

  • Adaptive rescue
  • Behavioral plasticity
  • Climate change
  • Molt phenology
  • Phenotypic plasticity

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