Climate Change Threatens Snowshoe Hares' Survival And Population

First Posted: Jan 22, 2016 11:17 AM EST

Some snowshoes hares can change their coats from brown in summer to white in winter, which they used as a camouflage. In a new study, researchers from the North Carolina State University found that climate change could significantly reduce the chances of survival among snowshoe hares and it is uncertain if their population can adapt the changes.

"This paper shows that the mismatch costs are severe enough to cause hare populations to steeply decline in the future unless they can adapt to the change," Marketa Zimova, lead author of the study, said in a news release.

The researchers carried out their observations with radio-collared snowshoe hares in Montana. They found that mismatched snowshoe hares had a 7 percent reduction in their weekly survival rate, when the snow was late or leaves were early. They also noted that white hares were visible to predators like "light bulbs" since their environment had no snow. The researchers found that a camouflage mismatch could affect about 14 species worldwide that change coat colors seasonally.

"This is one of the most direct demonstrations of mortality costs for a wild species facing climate change," said L. Scott Mills, coauthor of the study. "Hares have little ability to adjust their molt timing or behaviors to compensate for the mismatch. Here we take the next step of showing that mismatch does indeed kill."

The findings of this study were published in Ecology Letters.

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