A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has revealed that mountain hares in Scotland are exposed to more predators due to climate change. Normally, the mountain hares’ fur changes from dark brown to bright white when it starts to snow. The shedding of fur is significant, because it helps the animals camouflage into their surroundings and hide from predators.

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The study, led by Marketa Zimova of the University of Michigan, shows that climate change has altered snow patterns. The researchers analyzed over six decades of data and found a steep decline of 37.14 annual snow days between 1990 and 2016. Although some animals have been adapting to less snow cover, the mountain hares have failed to acclimate. These animals are still shedding their dark fur at the same time each year, but less snow is coming, and it is coming later. Their white fur stands out in the snowless landscape.

Related: Why should the Scottish woodlands be protected?

There is cause for alarm, as hares have proven to be vulnerable worldwide. For instance, the survival of snowshoe hares in North America has declined by up to 14% due to a lack of proper camouflage.

“The fact that mountain hares are not adapting the molt is really quite surprising,” said study co-author Scott Newey. “It could be because the mountain hare population doesn’t have the diversity within the gene pool to adapt and make changes, or it could be that the change in snow-lie is too rapid. The third hypothesis is that the studies were carried out on areas that are managed for driven grouse shooting, and driven grouse shooting is associated with predator control, particularly foxes and crows, which are legally controlled.”

This predator control may have, at least temporarily, left the mountain hares with less pressure to shed their fur later for survival. But as the predators return, the hares are at risk of population decline until either they acclimate or humans curb climate change.

+ Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Via The Guardian

Image via John Johnston