COS 74-5 - Repeatable differences in snowshoe hare behavior: Animal personality may facilitate plastic responses to climate change

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 9:20 AM
E147-148, Oregon Convention Center
Diana J. R. Lafferty1,2, Paul Q. Sims3, Sarah Corbit4 and L. Scott Mills2, (1)Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, (2)Wildlife Biology, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, (3)Biology Department, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada, (4)Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Individuals differ systematically in their behavioral tendencies and these ‘personality’ differences are repeatable across different situations and time. Furthermore, personality often is linked with differences in life history strategies, foraging behaviors, dispersal and fitness (e.g., survival, reproduction), thereby influencing population stability, resilience, and persistence that can affect communities and whole ecosystems at both ecological and evolutionary timescales. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) have emerged as an ecological model for understanding the effects of climate change, as survival is compromised when their seasonal molt to white produces camouflage mismatch against increasingly snowless brown ground. We have begun to examine how personality may interact with ecological and evolutionary processes for snowshoe hares confronting camouflage mismatch between their coat color and background. Using an open field apparatus divided into half white (snow) and half brown (barren ground) background tiles, our objectives were to 1) assess the presence of behavioral differences among individual snowshoe hares and 2) whether these behavioral differences (e.g., risk taking, background preference) were repeatable (i.e., personality) during the summer brown coat color phase.


Snowshoe hares exhibited significant among-individual differences in behavior and demonstrated high adjusted repeatability in background preferences as well as some measures of risk-taking behavior. More specifically, individuals exhibited repeatable preferences for the outer portion of the open field, the shelter, and brown background; although some individuals exhibited a preference for the white background despite summer pelage being predominantly brown. However, we found lower repeatability and no significant individual variation in snowshoe hares’ exploratory behavior and whether animals exited the shelter quickly upon exposure to the open field environment. Of the repeatable behaviors, we did not find any correlations, suggesting these behaviors may be independent of each other. Our results provide preliminary evidence that individual snowshoe hares display personality in their risk-taking behavior and background preferences. Thus, these differences may provide insight into how individuals will respond to the effects of climate change, particularly in response to changing snow levels and increase background heterogeneity that may influence predation risk and ultimately survival.