Local climate determines vulnerability to camouflage mismatch in snowshoe hares
Phenological mismatches, when life-events become mistimed with optimal environmental conditions, have become increasingly common under climate change. Population-level susceptibility to mismatches depends on how phenology and phenotypic plasticity vary across a species’ distributional range. Here, we quantify the environmental drivers of colour moult phenology, phenotypic plasticity, and the extent of phenological mismatch in seasonal camouflage to assess vulnerability to mismatch in a common North American mammal.
Major taxa studied
Snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus).
We used > 5,500 by-catch photographs of snowshoe hares from 448 remote camera trap sites at three independent study areas. To quantify moult phenology and phenotypic plasticity, we used multinomial logistic regression models that incorporated geospatial and high-resolution climate data. We estimated occurrence of camouflage mismatch between hares’ coat colour and the presence and absence of snow over 7 years of monitoring.
Spatial and temporal variation in moult phenology depended on local climate conditions more so than on latitude. First, hares in colder, snowier areas moulted earlier in the fall and later in the spring. Next, hares exhibited phenotypic plasticity in moult phenology in response to annual variation in temperature and snow duration, especially in the spring. Finally, the occurrence of camouflage mismatch varied in space and time; white hares on dark, snowless background occurred primarily during low-snow years in regions characterized by shallow, short-lasting snowpack.
Long-term climate and annual variation in snow and temperature determine coat colour moult phenology in snowshoe hares. In most areas, climate change leads to shorter snow seasons, but the occurrence of camouflage mismatch varies across the species’ range. Our results underscore the population-specific susceptibility to climate change-induced stressors and the necessity to understand this variation to prioritize the populations most vulnerable under global environmental change.