The climatic fluctuations during glaciations have affected differently arctic and temperate species. In the northern hemisphere, cooling periods induced the expansion of many arctic species to the south, while temperate species were forced to retract in southern refugia. Consequently, in some areas the alternation of these species set the conditions for competition and eventually hybridization. Hares in the Iberian Peninsula appear to illustrate this phenomenon. Populations of Iberian hare (Lepus granatensis), brown hare (Lepus europaeus) and broom hare (Lepus castroviejoi) in Northern Iberia harbour mitochondrial haplotypes from the mountain hare (Lepus timidus), a mainly boreal and arctic species presently absent from the peninsula. To understand the history of this past introgression we analysed sequence variation and geographical distribution of mitochondrial control region and cytochrome b haplotypes of L. timidus origin found in 378 specimens of these four species. Among 124 L. timidus from the Northern Palaearctic and the Alps we found substantial nucleotide diversity (2.3%) but little differentiation between populations. Based on the mismatch distribution of the L. timidus sequences, this could result from an expansion at a time of temperature decrease favourable to this arctic species. The nucleotide diversity of L. timidus mtDNA found in Iberian L. granatensis, L. europaeus and L. castroviejoi (183, 70 and 1 specimens, respectively) was of the same order as that in L. timidus over its range (1.9%), suggesting repeated introgression of multiple lineages. The structure of the coalescent of L. granatensis sequences indicates that hybridization with L. timidus was followed by expansion of the introgressed haplotypes, as expected during a replacement with competition, and occurred when temperatures started to rise, favouring the temperate species. Whether a similar scenario explains the introgression into Iberian L. europaeus remains unclear but it is possible that it hybridized with already introgressed L. granatensis.
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