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Evidence for niche similarities in the allopatric sister species Lepus castroviejoi and Lepus corsicanus

Authors

  • Pelayo Acevedo,

    Corresponding author
    1. CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBio Laboratório Associado, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
    2. Biogeography, Diversity and Conservation Research Team, University of Malaga, Málaga, Spain
    3. SaBio IREC (UCLM-CSIC-JCCM), Ciudad Real, Spain
    • Correspondence: Pelayo Acevedo, CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBio Laboratório Associado, Universidade do Porto, Vairão 4485-661, Portugal.

      E-mail: pacevedo@irec.csic.es; pelayo.acevedo@gmail.com

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  • José Melo-Ferreira,

    1. CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBio Laboratório Associado, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
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  • Raimundo Real,

    1. Biogeography, Diversity and Conservation Research Team, University of Malaga, Málaga, Spain
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  • Paulo C. Alves

    1. CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBio Laboratório Associado, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
    2. Departamento de Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal
    3. Wildlife Biology Program, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA
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Abstract

Aim

Lepus castroviejoi and Lepus corsicanus are sister species with allopatric distributions that share extensive phenotypic and genetic variation. Under the framework of niche conservatism, we assessed whether these species have similar ecological niches, which could provide insights into their mode of divergence, conservation, and taxonomic status.

Location

The distribution range of L. castroviejoi in the northern Iberian Peninsula, and that of L. corsicanus in mainland Italy and Sicily.

Methods

We developed spatially explicit ecological models to characterize the niches of the two species by modelling them separately and together. Individual models were transferred to the territory of the sister species to explore their niche relationships. Predictions were assessed for discrimination and calibration in a cross-assessment procedure.

Results

The model trained with L. castroviejoi was not able to predict the range of L. corsicanus, whereas the model trained with L. corsicanus was able to discriminate the L. castroviejoi distribution better than by chance alone (AUC = 0.814), although the reliability of the predictions was limited. The model trained with L. corsicanus in Italy's mainland (excluding the range in Sicily), however, discriminated L. castroviejoi presences/absences (AUC = 0.788) and accurately predicted its probability of occurrence. Furthermore, a well-calibrated model, which was able to discriminate the species distributions (L. castroviejoi, AUC = 0.828; L. corsicanus, AUC = 0.956), was obtained when the species were considered together.

Main conclusions

Our results suggest that L. castroviejoi and L. corsicanus share extensive niche properties, which reinforces their possible conspecific status. The ecological niche of their ancestor may have resembled the present occupied niche of L. corsicanus in mainland Italy, given that this model was able to accurately predict the distribution range of both species. Finally, ecological evidence suggests that niche conservatism may explain the fragmentation in the distribution range of their ancestor, which may have been the driver of the initial stages of divergence.

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