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Data from: Snow-mediated plasticity does not prevent camouflage mismatch

Cite this dataset

Kumar, Alexander; Zimova, Marketa; Sparks, James; Mills, L Scott (2020). Data from: Snow-mediated plasticity does not prevent camouflage mismatch [Dataset]. Dryad.


Global reduction in snow cover duration is one of the most consistent and widespread climate change outcomes. Declining snow duration has severe negative consequences for diverse taxa including seasonally color molting species, which rely on snow for camouflage. However, phenotypic plasticity may facilitate adaptation to reduced snow duration. Plastic responses could occur in the color molt phenology or through behavior that minimizes coat color mismatch or its consequences. We quantified molt phenology of 200 wild snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), and measured microhabitat choice and local snow cover. Similar to other studies, we found that hares did not show behavioral plasticity to minimize coat color mismatch via background matching; instead they preferred colder, snow free areas regardless of their coat color. Furthermore, hares did not behaviorally mitigate the negative consequences of mismatch by choosing resting sites with denser vegetation cover when mismatched. Importantly, we demonstrated plasticity in the initiation and the rate of the molt and established the direct effect of snow on molt phenology; greater snow cover was associated with whiter hares and this association was not due to whiter hares preferring snowier areas. However, despite the observed snow-mediated plasticity in molt phenology, camouflage mismatch with white hares on brown snowless ground persisted and was more frequent during early snowmelt. Thus, we find no evidence that phenotypic plasticity in snowshoe hares is sufficient to facilitate adaptive rescue to camouflage mismatch under climate change.


Using VHF radio-telemetry, we tracked individual snowshoe hares and obtained locations during the fall brown-to-white and the spring white-to-brown molts. We followed a standardized protocol of visual observation and photography to estimate hare percent white: (0%, 5%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 95%, and 100%) and snow cover at each hare location in 20% increments. At both available sites and sites used by hares we recorded snow cover, temperature and the total number of stems (>1m tall and >2.5 cm diameter at breast height).

Usage notes

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National Science Foundation, Award: DGE-1252376

National Science Foundation, Award: 1736249

National Science Foundation, Award: 0841884