Lack of phenological shift leads to increased camouflage mismatch in mountain hares

Marketa Zimova, Sean T Giery, Scott Newey, J Joshua Nowak, Michael Spencer, L Scott Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
93 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding whether organisms will be able to adapt to human-induced stressors currently endangering their existence is an urgent priority. Globally, multiple species moult from a dark summer to white winter coat to maintain camouflage against snowy landscapes. Decreasing snow cover duration owing to climate change is increasing mismatch in seasonal camouflage. To directly test for adaptive responses to recent changes in snow cover, we repeated historical (1950s) field studies of moult phenology in mountain hares (Lepus timidus) in Scotland. We found little evidence that population moult phenology has shifted to align seasonal coat colour with shorter snow seasons, or that phenotypic plasticity prevented increases in camouflage mismatch. The lack of responses resulted in 35 additional days of mismatch between 1950 and 2016. We emphasize the potential role of weak directional selection pressure and low genetic variability in shaping the scope for adaptive responses to anthropogenic stressors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201786
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1941
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusFirst published - 23 Dec 2020


  • Alangium salviifolium
  • LC/MS
  • GC/Q-TOF
  • snow
  • adaptation
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • phenological mismatch
  • climate change
  • historical resurvey


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