Assessing the genetic landscape of a contact zone: the case of European hare in northeastern Greece
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- Antoniou, A., Magoulas, A., Platis, P. et al. Genetica (2013) 141: 23. doi:10.1007/s10709-013-9703-z
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The European hare populations of the Balkan Peninsula comprise two divergent phylogenetic lineages with discrete geographical distribution slightly overlapping in the area of northeastern Greece and Bulgaria. Here we elucidate their contact zone, by defining the spatial distributional pattern of the two highly divergent groups, detecting individuals of hybrid origin, and identifying genetic barriers present in the area of their co-existence. Specimens from northeastern Greece were assayed for lineage assignment and population genetic inference based on a 511 bp fragment of mitochondrial DNA control region and allelic data from 10 microsatellite loci. Bayesian analyses on original and simulated genotypes were performed allowing for the contact zone delineation. Our results indicate high genetic diversity in both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, strong population structure and non random spatial distribution of the differentiated gene pools. The information provided by the two types of molecular markers yielded consistent results. This study comprises a fine scale analysis of the contact zone between the two evolutionary lineages of European brown hares in northeastern Greece. Specific questions on the spatial patterns where addressed for the first time. Furthermore, hypotheses regarding the presence of hybrids were also tested. As a result, interpretive power to the diversity patterns observed today in the Balkans was added and previously overlooked aspects of the species biology were highlighted.