Phylogeography and population structure of the endangered Tehuantepec jackrabbit Lepus flavigularis: implications for conservation
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The Tehuantepec jackrabbit (Lepus flavigularis) is an endangered species restricted to a small area in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. To evaluate its phylogeographic structure, population genetics, and demographic history we sequenced the mitochondrial Control Region hypervariable domain (CR-1) for 42 individuals representing the entire species range. Phylogenetic patterns indicated that this species is subdivided into two highly divergent clades, with an average nucleotide genetic distance of 3.7% (TrN) between them. Clades A and B are geographically distributed in non-overlapping areas to the west and to the east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, respectively. Genetic diversity indices showed reduced genetic variability in L. flavigularis when compared to other species of Lepus within main clades and within populations. This low genetic diversity coupled with the restricted distribution to very small areas of occurrence and limited gene flow suggest that genetic drift has played an important role in the evolution of this species. Historical demographic analysis also pointed out that these two clades underwent a recent population expansion that started about 9,000 years ago for clade A and 3,200 years ago for clade B during the Holocene. Consequently, from the conservation perspective our results suggest that populations included in clades A and B should be regarded as distinct evolutionary lineages.