Data from: A camera trap based assessment of climate-driven phenotypic plasticity of seasonal moulting in an endangered carnivore
Cite this dataset
Laporte-Devylder, Lucie et al. (2022). Data from: A camera trap based assessment of climate-driven phenotypic plasticity of seasonal moulting in an endangered carnivore [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.xd2547dhm
For many species, the ability to rapidly adapt to changes in seasonality is essential for long-term survival. In the Arctic, seasonal moulting is a key life history event that provides year-round camouflage and thermal protection. However, increased seasonal variability can lead to phenological mismatch. In this study, we investigated whether winter-white (white morph) and winter-brown (blue morph) Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) could adjust their winter-to-summer moult to match local environmental conditions. We used camera trap images spanning an eight-year period to quantify the timing and rate of fur change in a polymorphic subpopulation in south-central Norway. Seasonal snow cover duration and temperature governed the phenology of the spring moult. We observed a later onset and longer moulting duration with decreasing temperature and longer snow season. Additionally, white foxes moulted earlier than blue in years with shorter periods of snow cover and warmer temperatures. These results suggest that phenotypic plasticity allows Arctic foxes to modulate the timing and rate of their spring moult as snow conditions and temperatures fluctuate. With the Arctic warming at an unprecedented rate, understanding the capacity of polar species to physiologically adapt to a changing environment is urgently needed in order to develop adaptive conservation efforts. Moreover, we provide the first evidence for variations in the moulting phenology of blue and white Arctic foxes. Our study underlines the different intraspecific selective pressures that can exist in populations where several morphs co-occur, and illustrates the importance of integrating morph-based differences in future management strategies of such polymorphic species.