We are happy to announce that our research on mortality costs of camouflage mismatch in snowshoe hares was published on January 22nd 2016 in Ecology Letters.
The findings show high mortality consequences of camouflage mismatch for snowshoe hares, but also suggest potential adaptation via evolutionary shifts that might rescue hares from climate change.
In our previous work, we showed that climate change causes snow duration to decrease, and that hares have little ability to adjust their molt timing or behaviors to compensate for the mismatch. Because of that, hares are expected to confront a lot more mismatch in the future.
In this research we took the next step of showing the large mortality costs of mismatch and its potential to cause hare populations to decline steeply in the future unless they adapt to the change. The good news is that different individuals molt at different times, enabling natural selection to favor those better suited for the changing snow conditions. However, whether evolution through natural selection can save hares quickly enough is uncertain, especially given the rapid rate of climate change.
Ultimately, to promote adaptation and persistence of wild species under any anthropogenic stressor, the reduction of its cause is essential. In the case of camouflage mismatch, it must be done via climate change mitigation. But in the meantime, we recommend maintaining large and connected populations to foster evolutionary rescue and its ability to allow wild animals to adapt to the changing conditions.