Phylogeographical investigations of arctic organisms provide spatial and temporal frameworks for interpreting the role of climate change on biotic diversity in high-latitude ecosystems. Phylogenetic analyses were conducted on 473 base pairs of the mitochondrial control region in 192 arctic hares (Lepus arcticus, Lepus othus, Lepus timidus) and two individual Lepus townsendii. The three arctic hare species are closely related. All L. othus individuals form one well-supported clade, L. arcticus individuals form two well-supported clades, and L. timidus individuals are scattered throughout the phylogeny. Arctic hare distribution was altered dramatically following post-Pleistocene recession of continental ice sheets. We tested for genetic signatures of population expansion for hare populations now found in deglaciated areas. Historical demographic estimates for 12 arctic hare populations from throughout their range indicate that L. arcticus and L. othus persisted in two separate North American arctic refugia (Beringia and High Canadian Arctic) during glacial advances of the Pleistocene, while the high genetic diversity in L. timidus likely reflects multiple Eurasian refugia.
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