Canu, Antonio and Suchentrunk, Franz and Cossu, Antonio and Foddai, Rosolino and Iacolina, Laura and Slimen, Hichem Ben and Apollonio, Marco and Scandura, Massimo (2012) Differentiation under isolation and genetic structure of Sardinian hares as revealed by craniometric analysis, mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, Vol. 50 (4), p. 328-337. eISSN 1439-0469. Article.
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Hares (Lepus capensis Linnaeus 1758) were probably introduced into Sardinia in historical times. Previous studies indicated North Africa as the most likely source area but did not exclude the occurrence of hybridization events with continental brown hares (L. europaeus Pallas 1778) perhaps introduced for hunting purposes. We implemented both morphometric and genetic approaches to verify the genetic isolation of the Sardinian population. Specifically, we conducted a multivariate analysis of craniometric data and analysed 461 bp of the mitochondrial control region and 12 autosomal microsatellites in Sardinian hares, using North African cape hares and European brown hares as reference populations. Sardinian hares displayed a peculiar skull shape. In agreement, both nuclear and mitochondrial markers remarked the distinctiveness of this population. Observed and expected heterozygosity were 0.52 and 0.61, while haplotype and nucleotide diversity were 0.822 and 0.0129. Selfassignment based on Bayesian cluster analysis was high (average membership 0.98), and no evident signs of introgression from continental brown hares were found. Our results support the hypothesis that the Sardinian hares have been introduced from North Africa, remained genetically isolated since the founding event and evolved independently from the source population. This long-lasting isolation and the consequent genetic drift resulted in a differentiation, perhaps accompanied by an adaptation to local environmental conditions.
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