Trent University PhD candidate, Melanie Boudreau, has spent a great deal of time with snowshoe hares up in the Yukon with her supervisor Dr. Dennis Murray and her colleague MS.c candidate, Jacob Seguin.
The snowshoe hare is a species found all throughout North America, including in our backyard in Peterborough! The species is dubbed “snowshoe” because of its large size of hind feet.
The animal’s feet prevent it from sinking into the snow when it hops and walks – and the large feet have fur that protect it from freezing temperatures!
These creatures are in trouble due to climate change.
Due to climate change, new predators are expanding their range and heading up north, where the snowshoe hare lives!
PhD candidate Melanie is studying how the stress of having predators around affects snowshoe hares.
Melanie conducted the study in the Kluane Lake Region in the Yukon – a relatively stress-free environment with little human influence.
Snowshoe hares population changes over a span of 10 years.
Their numbers go up and down in a cyclic pattern. Lynx and coyote numbers follow snowshoe hare numbers because hares are their main meal!
After the decline, when predators are gone from the area, hares remain low in number over several years before they bounce back.
What causes this to happen?
The research team thinks that the stress of having predators around remains, even after predators are long gone.
Using radio-collars, Melanie tracked the snowshoe hares.
The Trent University research involves increasing stress to the snowshoe hares using J.D the “science dog” (shown below!) to “seek out and chase” (but not catch!) the snowshoe hares to see what type of response they have.
Initial findings from the research have shown that snowshoe hares do respond with an increase in stress levels from the science dog, and that stress causes lowered reproductive capacity.
This could mean that if newer predators enter the area due to climate change, the snowshoe hare could be in trouble.
Other stresses to the snowshoe hare include:
- A decrease in snow due to increasing global temperatures, harming their habitat.
- Light levels have remained the same, but global temperatures have risen. As a result, snowshoe hares are changing their fur colour too early , becoming more susceptible to predators
Melanie tells us that:
“Most people don’t realize that the snowshoe hare is a keystone species in our boreal forest (which spans across most of Canada). If we were to lose this species, we would see the collapse of an entire ecosystem. With changing climate comes the possibility of new predators expanding their range north into Canada which means more pressure on the hares. Knowing how the system works now can help us make decisions in the future!”
Melanie’s Trent University research has findings that predict that new predators can increase snowshoe hare stresses and lead to their decline.
Thanks Melanie for your incredible research and for reminding us that climate change is impacting species all over the globe!