Morphometric differentiation between the Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus De Winton, 1898) and the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778)

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Abstract

The Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus De Winton, 1898), formerly considered a subspecies of the European brown hare (L. europaeus Pallas, 1778), is an endemic species recently revalidated by genetic analyses. We performed univariate and multivariate analyses to assess morphological discrimination between L. corsicanus and L. europaeus. A clear morphological discrimination in body and skull measurements between Italian hares and European hares was evident. Our results are consistent with the morphological observations in the historical specimens and with mtDNA data. Furthermore, no morphological hybrid was found even in areas where viable populations of the two species coexist in sympatry. Despite the original distribution of the Italian hare, it is impossible to determine a clear boundary between the two species because of human introduction of L. europaeus for hunting. Populations of L. corsicanus have been recorded from central Italy to Sicily, with a fragmented distribution and sometimes in sympatry and syntopy with populations of L. europaeus. However, in Sicily the Italian hare is continuously distributed, locally abundant and no stable European hare populations have been found. Although the conservation of the Italian hare needs to be understood better, urgent conservation and management strategies are required to avoid the threat of extinction for local populations.

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