How do hares respond to potential threat?

– read about Brandon Davis’ undergraduate Honors Research Project

As snowfall is projected to decrease significantly over the next century, the number of days that hares will be mismatched to the environment will increase. Because hares molt to match the environment an increase in mismatched days will likely make them more vulnerable to predation. I will assess if hares realize when they are matched or mismatched to the environment by measuring their behavioral response when approached by a potential predator. If they can, this would be a form of behavioral plasticity that could reduce mortality due to mismatch. The information gathered from this project will improve our understanding of a molting animal’s behavior in mismatched environments. Snowshoe hare recognition of coat color mismatch could be vital to their survival in an environment that is projected to change.

Click here to watch video from the field

Originally, we planned on approaching each hare with a dog but soon realized that hare behavior was influenced by the noise created by the observer while locating the hare. We still use these approaches for our data but of our 15 approaches only 5 have been with our dog. It’s very early in the data collection process, but, so far, the data we’ve found is consistent with our predictions. First, that hares in the open will flee sooner than hares in cover and second, that hares that are mismatched with the environment will flee sooner than matched hares.

 

– Brandon Davis