Thursday, January 16, 2014

Montana snowshoe hare study provides documentation of climate-change adaptation

Martin Kidston in the Missoulian (Montana): In the biting cold and snow-filled backcountry of the Seeley-Swan Valley, researchers from the University of Montana are looking for what should be nearly invisible. After all, snowshoe hares against a winter landscape shouldn’t be easy to spot, their camouflaged coat a point of remarkable adaptation.

Yet as the climate warms and the snow comes later and melts sooner, the white hare often finds itself out of sync with its surroundings. Whether the animal can adapt to the changes remains uncertain, and success or failure may implicate the future of the threatened Canada lynx.

“There’s no more specialized mammal species on Earth as Canada lynx are with hares,” sai
d former UM researcher Scott Mills. “There’s no way you can recover lynx without fostering strong hare populations.”

Now at North Carolina State University, Mills has studied hares for 15 years and counting. Aided by UM graduate students working from Montana, he and his team have compiled the nation’s largest body of field data on snowshoe hares.

Over the years, the work has ranged from the timing of the hares’ changing coat color to climate change and the impacts of pre-commercial thinning on forest habitat. Their findings appeared last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and, two weeks ago, the National Science Foundation moved to fund the study for five additional years at a cost of $400,000.

“The NSF recognizes this as one of the most important long-term studies of a forest species in the U.S.,” said Mills. “They like the fact that we’re working to understand the basic principles that drive population dynamics, and that we’re applying that in a number of ways, from recovering the Canada lynx to better forestry practices to understanding climate change.”...

A snowshoe hare, shot by Denali National Park and Preserve, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

No comments: