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The secret of Pianosa island: an Italian native population of European brown hare (Lepus europaeus meridiei Hilzheimer, 1906)


Given its relevance as a game species, the brown hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778) is one of the most managed and translocated mammals in Europe. In Italy, the species shows a genepool consisting of a mix of native and exotic lineages, due to translocations and introductions for hunting purposes. Some authors argued that the introduction of exotic brown hares could have caused the extinction of an endemic subspecies, L. e. meridiei Hilzheimer 1906, once present in central and northern Italy. Here we genetically characterized for the first time the brown hare population living in Pianosa island (part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park) using 13 STR loci and a fragment of the mtDNA control region. All individuals analyzed share a unique haplotype, the L. europaeus haplotype Leu2, recognized as the ancestral mitochondrial lineage corresponding to the subspecies L. e. meridiei. Furthermore, considering autosomal markers, Pianosa brown hare population and current Italian peninsular population are genetically distinct. The discovery of this ancient population in a protected area, isolated and not affected by recent translocation/restocking events, has a great relevance in conservation and confirms the current presence of the endemic subspecies L. e. meridiei in Italy.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge all collaborators who participated to capturing and sampling: many technicians and hunters of ATC Lucca, Livorno, Pistoia, Grosseto, Firenze, Bologna, Pescara, Chieti-Lanciano, in particular Franco Recchia, and the Life project technical and administrative staff, with a particular reference to Maria Angela Selvatici, Franca Zanichelli, Francesco De Pietro, Francesca Puppo and Iacopo Corsi. Final thanks to the police officers on patrol in Pianosa and to all detainees who participated in the field activities.

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Correspondence to C. Mengoni.

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Mengoni, C., Trocchi, V., Mucci, N. et al. The secret of Pianosa island: an Italian native population of European brown hare (Lepus europaeus meridiei Hilzheimer, 1906). Conserv Genet 19, 1513–1518 (2018).

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  • Lepus
  • Island
  • MtDNA
  • Microsatellite
  • Brown hare