Mountain Hares and Climate Change


Despite the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the world, it carried a ray of hope for climate change and global warming. During the mandatory lockdown period due to the untamed spread of the virus, we observed some decrease in CO2 emissions, an enhanced air quality in some regions, and a healing Ozone. However, environmental damage has already taken place, and it needs a longer period to witness a positive change.

To mention one direct effect of climate change on our environment, let us go Scotland, Britain, where mountain hares suffer an untimely change of their fur color. Due to climate change and the disorders in the snow falling seasons, the hares lost their ability to camouflage and hide from predators.

In Winters, the hares' fur turns from brown to snowy white to imitate the changes in the surrounding environment, where the temperature decreases and the snow falls to cover the ground. Thanks to these changes, the fur turns white to allow the hares to hide, a process known as camouflage. The open environment makes hares easy preys; hence, camouflage is vital to help them hide from their sharp-eyed predators such as th golden eagle.

The change in fur color takes place in response to the decreased amount of day light the hares are exposed to over some weeks. It is the only method these hares use to avoid predators. It is worth mentioning that this type of camouflage happens to 21 animal species including the arctic fox, the long-tailed weasel, the snowshoe hare, and the ptarmigans. However, two research studies, the second of which conducted in late 2020, found that many hares were not able to survive due to untimely color changes, making them easy targets to hungry predators.

The study was conducted by Marekta Zemova, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Michigan, USA. She found that the decreased snowfall period over the mountains and the shortened snow cover period affect the hare's ability to change fur color, making them easy preys. She also found that there is a life-threatening 35-day discrepancy between the end of Winter and the fur returning to its original color. It is expected that fatalities in the hare population will increase, leading to their extinction by 2100.

In the end, our look to the environment in the post-coronavirus world should change. We must try to avoid the mistakes of the past and fix them if possible, to make tomorrow better for us and the coming generations.


The article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Summer/Autumn 2021.

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