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Snowshoe hares display limited phenotypic plasticity to mismatch in seasonal camouflage

April 1, 2014

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.

Publication Year 2014
Title Snowshoe hares display limited phenotypic plasticity to mismatch in seasonal camouflage
DOI 10.1098/rspb.2014.0029
Authors Marketa Zimova, L. Scott Mills, Paul M. Lukacs, Michael S. Mitchell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Index ID 70173611
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle