Epigenetic dental variability of Israeli hares (Lepus sp.): ecogenetic or phylogenetic causation?

Authors

  • F. Suchentrunk,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vienna Veterinary University, Savoyenstrasse 1, A-1160 Vienna, Austria
      All correspondence to: F. Suchentrunk. E-mail: fiwi@vu-wien.ac.at
    Search for more papers by this author
  • P. U. Alkon,

    1. The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, Mitrani Department for Desert Ecology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sede Boker Campus, Israel 84993
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, New Mexico State University, MS 490, Las Cruces, NM 88005, U.S.A.

  • R. Willing,

    1. Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vienna Veterinary University, Savoyenstrasse 1, A-1160 Vienna, Austria
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Y. Yom-Tov

    1. Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, 69978 Tel Aviv, Israel
    Search for more papers by this author

All correspondence to: F. Suchentrunk. E-mail: fiwi@vu-wien.ac.at

Abstract

We examined 3747 teeth from 134 hares (Lepus sp.) collected at 46 sites in Israel to test whether variation in epigenetic occlusal characters was linked to ecogenetic or phylogenetic factors. Collection sites encompassed a wide range of ecogeographical and climatic regimes. We compared data from Israeli hares with occlusal characters of 160 cape hares L. capensis from East Africa and 68 brown hares L. europaeus from central Europe. Only three teeth (I1, I2, M3) did not show occlusal variation. Thirty-eight occlusal characters were derived from dental variants by dichotomous (0/1) scoring. Absence of association of character states among characters of single teeth indicated a lack of morphotypes. Epigenetic differentiation among hares from northern, central and southern Israel, and the two East African, and two central European samples, was revealed by pairwise C. A. B. Smith's ‘mean measures of divergence’ (MMD), based on frequencies of character states. Cluster analyses of MMD values revealed little epigenetic differentiation between northern and southern Israeli hares, but greater differentiation between central European and East African hares. Concordance of the MMD matrix with linear geographical distances among sampling regions was demonstrated by a Mantel test. No frequencies of character states exhibited significant changes across the climatic parameters among hares from northern and southern Israel. But the individual folding index, which expresses the degree of enamel on the occlusal surface, slightly decreased from north to south. Our results support a phylogenetic interpretation of occlusal character variation. Despite distinct differences in external appearance, hares from northern and southern Israel probably comprise a single species that encompasses two closely related geographical populations with a probable area of overlap. Israeli hares are intermediate between European brown hares and East African cape hares, with a slightly closer relationship to the cape hares.

Ancillary