Snowshoe hares display limited phenotypic plasticity to mismatch in seasonal camouflage

Marketa Zimova, L. Scott Mills, Paul M. Lukacs, Michael S. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations

Abstract

As duration of snow cover decreases owing to climate change, species undergoing seasonal colour moults can become colour mismatched with their background. The immediate adaptive solution to this mismatch is phenotypic plasticity, either in phenology of seasonal colour moults or in behaviours that reduce mismatch or its consequences. We observed nearly 200 snowshoe hares across a wide range of snow conditions and two study sites in Montana, USA, and found minimal plasticity in response to mismatch between coat colour and background. We found that moult phenology varied between study sites, likely due to differences in photoperiod and climate, but was largely fixed within study sites with only minimal plasticity to snow conditions during the spring white-to-brown moult. We also found no evidence that hares modify their behaviour in response to colour mismatch. Hiding and fleeing behaviours and resting spot preference of hares were more affected by variables related to season, site and concealment by vegetation, than by colour mismatch. We conclude that plasticity in moult phenology and behaviours in snowshoe hares is insufficient for adaptation to camouflage mismatch, suggesting that any future adaptation to climate change will require natural selection on moult phenology or behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20140029
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume281
Issue number1782
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 11 2014

Keywords

  • Camouflage mismatch
  • Climate change
  • Crypsis
  • Phenology
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Snowshoe hare

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