Biochemical genetic variability in brown hares (Lepus europaeus) from Greece
Allozyme variability of 91 brown hares (Lepus europaeus) from seven regions in Greece was compared to existing data of Bulgarian populations to test the hypothesis of the occurrence of specific alleles in Greece, likely stemming from an isolated Late Pleistocene refugial population in the southern Balkans. This hypothesis is particularly suggested by some subfossil Late Pleistocene hare remains in Greece and the reported high mtDNA diversity in Greek hares. Allozymic diversity could be higher in Greek hares than in hares from neighboring regions as a result of the accumulation of variants in a long-lasting Pleistocene refugium. Conversely, Greek hares could exhibit reduced genetic diversity because of long-lasting low effective population sizes during the Late Glacial Maximum and a lower chance of postglacial gene flow from other populations into this rather marginal part in the southern Balkans. Horizontal starch gel electrophoresis of proteins from 35 loci revealed three alleles (Es-1(-162), Pep-2(114), Mpi(88)) at low frequencies, which were not found in Bulgarian or any other brown hare population. In contrast, some alleles from the populations from Bulgaria and other regions of Europe were absent in the Greek samples. Population genetic statistics indicated only a slight tendency of increased gene pool diversity in Greek hares, little substructuring in Greek and Bulgarian populations, respectively, as well as an only slightly lower level of gene flow between the two neighboring regions, as compared to the gene flow within each region. The results conform to the hypothesis of a Late Pleistocene refugial population in the southern Balkans, with some few specific nuclear gene pool characteristics, but little effect on the overall genetic differentiation between Greek and Bulgarian hares.