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      Camouflage mismatch in seasonal coat color due to decreased snow duration

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      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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          Abstract

          Most examples of seasonal mismatches in phenology span multiple trophic levels, with timing of animal reproduction, hibernation, or migration becoming detached from peak food supply. The consequences of such mismatches are difficult to link to specific future climate change scenarios because the responses across trophic levels have complex underlying climate drivers often confounded by other stressors. In contrast, seasonal coat color polyphenism creating camouflage against snow is a direct and potentially severe type of seasonal mismatch if crypsis becomes compromised by the animal being white when snow is absent. It is unknown whether plasticity in the initiation or rate of coat color change will be able to reduce mismatch between the seasonal coat color and an increasingly snow-free background. We find that natural populations of snowshoe hares exposed to 3 y of widely varying snowpack have plasticity in the rate of the spring white-to-brown molt, but not in either the initiation dates of color change or the rate of the fall brown-to-white molt. Using an ensemble of locally downscaled climate projections, we also show that annual average duration of snowpack is forecast to decrease by 29-35 d by midcentury and 40-69 d by the end of the century. Without evolution in coat color phenology, the reduced snow duration will increase the number of days that white hares will be mismatched on a snowless background by four- to eightfold by the end of the century. This novel and visually compelling climate change-induced stressor likely applies to >9 widely distributed mammals with seasonal coat color.

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          Most cited references 30

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          Adaptive phenotypic plasticity in response to climate change in a wild bird population.

          Rapid climate change has been implicated as a cause of evolution in poorly adapted populations. However, phenotypic plasticity provides the potential for organisms to respond rapidly and effectively to environmental change. Using a 47-year population study of the great tit (Parus major) in the United Kingdom, we show that individual adjustment of behavior in response to the environment has enabled the population to track a rapidly changing environment very closely. Individuals were markedly invariant in their response to environmental variation, suggesting that the current response may be fixed in this population. Phenotypic plasticity can thus play a central role in tracking environmental change; understanding the limits of plasticity is an important goal for future research.
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            Generating surfaces of daily meteorological variables over large regions of complex terrain

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              Coupled dynamics of body mass and population growth in response to environmental change.

              Environmental change has altered the phenology, morphological traits and population dynamics of many species. However, the links underlying these joint responses remain largely unknown owing to a paucity of long-term data and the lack of an appropriate analytical framework. Here we investigate the link between phenotypic and demographic responses to environmental change using a new methodology and a long-term (1976-2008) data set from a hibernating mammal (the yellow-bellied marmot) inhabiting a dynamic subalpine habitat. We demonstrate how earlier emergence from hibernation and earlier weaning of young has led to a longer growing season and larger body masses before hibernation. The resulting shift in both the phenotype and the relationship between phenotype and fitness components led to a decline in adult mortality, which in turn triggered an abrupt increase in population size in recent years. Direct and trait-mediated effects of environmental change made comparable contributions to the observed marked increase in population growth. Our results help explain how a shift in phenology can cause simultaneous phenotypic and demographic changes, and highlight the need for a theory integrating ecological and evolutionary dynamics in stochastic environments.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                April 30 2013
                April 30 2013
                April 15 2013
                April 30 2013
                : 110
                : 18
                : 7360-7365
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1222724110
                3645584
                23589881
                © 2013
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