Name: Lado S
Biodeserts supervisors: Boratyński Z
Co-supervisor: Melo-Ferreira J
Title: Taxonomy and systematics of North African hares
Institution: University of Porto
The taxonomy of the genus Lepus is still controversial in many aspects, and species described from Africa are no exception. In order to understand the phylogenetics, taxonomy and systematic of the species present in North Africa, the Cape hare (Lepus capensis), a molecular investigation using Cytochrome b sequence data from 51 specimens plus sequences of other 4 Lepus species was performed. The phylogenetic analysis using Median Joining and Baysian Inference identified several major lineages within North African hares. This mitochondrial gene was characterized by high levels of intraspecific diversity, with high sequence divergence. L. capensis in North Africa is a heterogeneous and ancient evolutionary entity. Several divergent lineages which probably diverged in the last million years were found to be geographically structured, which likely resulted from fragmentation of ancestral ranges and divergence in allopatry. Several possible barriers to gene flow were described. Regions where haplotypes from different clades were found in sympatry probably result from secondary contact of the divergent lineages after expansion. Whether these evolutionary entities are reproductively isolated and should be considered distinct species should be assessed in the future using a detailed characterization of their genomes and ecologies. Some haplotypes were found to be more closely related to those of other species, which can result from mtDNA introgression, a phenomenon widely described in the genus, or retention of ancestral polymorphism, which may uncover different taxonomic entities. These results contribute to the knowledge of the role of landscape dynamics in the diversification of hares in the region, in particular how mountains and rivers together with changes in the climate mediated the diversification processes. Future studies with increased geographic and genomic sampling are needed to assess whether L. capensis should be decomposed into several taxonomic units.