New publication from Alex Kumar: Camouflage mismatch occurs despite snow triggering hares to turn white sooner

We are pleased to announce that our research on the ability of hares to adapt to climate change was published in the journal November issue of Oecologia.

As many skiers are undoubtedly experiencing, snow cover is decreasing due to climate change. In addition to influencing winter recreation, less days with snow cover could result in reduced camouflage for the 21 species of birds and mammals that turn white in the winter. However, these species may be able to adapt to reduced snow duration minimizing the negative effects of climate change. In this paper, we explored the ability of hares to adapt to a shortened snow season through behavioral changes or changes in the timing of their white molts.

We found no evidence that hares adjusted their behavior to compensate for reduced snow duration. Hares did not choose to rest in areas that matched their coat color. Instead, they consistently chose snow-free areas. Additionally, mismatched white hares on snowless ground did not choose to hide in places that increased their concealment relative to matched hares. However, we did find that the mere presence of snow was enough to accelerate the molt to white in the fall and slow down the molt to brown in the spring. In fact, snow presence made hares 11% whiter in the spring.

Now that we know snow reduces mismatch by making hare whiter, the next question is - does the hare molt track snow cover so well that climate change driven reductions in snow cover will not increase hare mismatch? Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is no. In years with less snow, mismatch increased by more than 10 times.

Thus, it seems that for snowshoe hares, their ability to cope with climate change may depend more on rapid evolution.

You can check out the full article here!

- Alex Kumar, PhD