Evol Ecol Res 20: 537-555 (2019)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Evolutionary ecology of hares (Lepus spp.) from northwest Africa:
the existence of cryptic species and description of a new species (Lepus saharae sp. nov.)

Carmen Soria-Boix1, Maria P. Donat-Torres2, Hamid Rguibi Idrissi3 & Vicente Urios1

1Grupo de Investigación Zoología de Vertebrados, Universidad de Alicante, Alicante, Spain
2Instituto de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada de Zonas Costeras, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
3Ecole Supérieure de Technologie Laâyoune, Université Ibn Zohr, Laâyoune, Morocco

Correspondence: C. Soria-Boix, Grupo de Investigación Zoología de Vertebrados,
Universidad de Alicante, Ctra. San Vicente del Raspeig s/n, 03690 San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante, Spain.
email: mdcs45@alu.ua.es


Objective: We examine the different pressures that lead to the occurrence of new species and thus to their phylogenies. From an evolutionary ecology perspective, we examine the phylogenetic relationships of different lineages, as well as the evolutionary pressures that lead to them and, in some cases, mask them.

Organisms and locales: Hares (Lepus spp.) in northwest Africa that are morphologically similar, which, superficially, makes it appear that there is only one species.

Methods: We describe different populations of hares in northwest Africa. We describe the morphology of a new species and provide photographs of specimens from across the study area. We analyse five mitochondrial DNA fragments.

Results: Mitochondrial DNA analysis revealed the presence of three Lepus species which are different from both Lepus capensis and L. victoriae and which have contiguous, partially overlapping geographical ranges. One of the species, found in the western Sahara (Morocco), is new (Lepus saharae sp. nov.). The other two species (Lepus mediterraneus Wagner, 1841 and Lepus schlumbergeri Remy-St. Loup, 1894) inhabit the northern and central regions of Morocco. The distributions of at least two of the three species extend to countries other than Morocco. Various eco-evolutionary pressures have masked this diversity until now. Certainly, the species have had to adapt to different habitats that include mountains and desert; and isolation of populations by distance, or because of climatic or geographical barriers has led – or at least facilitated – them to appear different. Yet some evolutionary pressures have made them converge morphologically, making it appear that there is only one species.

Keywords: Africa, DNA, holotype, Lepus mediterraneus, Lepus saharae, Lepus schlumbergeri, phylogeny

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