Reticulate evolution: frequent introgressive hybridization among Chinese hares (genus Lepus) revealed by analyses of multiple mitochondrial and nuclear DNA loci
Arnold, Michael L
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Abstract Background Interspecific hybridization may lead to the introgression of genes and genomes across species barriers and contribute to a reticulate evolutionary pattern and thus taxonomic uncertainties. Since several previous studies have demonstrated that introgressive hybridization has occurred among some species within Lepus, therefore it is possible that introgressive hybridization events also occur among Chinese Lepus species and contribute to the current taxonomic confusion. Results Data from four mtDNA genes, from 116 individuals, and one nuclear gene, from 119 individuals, provides the first evidence of frequent introgression events via historical and recent interspecific hybridizations among six Chinese Lepus species. Remarkably, the mtDNA of L. mandshuricus was completely replaced by mtDNA from L. timidus and L. sinensis. Analysis of the nuclear DNA sequence revealed a high proportion of heterozygous genotypes containing alleles from two divergent clades and that several haplotypes were shared among species, suggesting repeated and recent introgression. Furthermore, results from the present analyses suggest that Chinese hares belong to eight species. Conclusion This study provides a framework for understanding the patterns of speciation and the taxonomy of this clade. The existence of morphological intermediates and atypical mitochondrial gene genealogies resulting from frequent hybridization events likely contribute to the current taxonomic confusion of Chinese hares. The present study also demonstrated that nuclear gene sequence could offer a powerful complementary data set with mtDNA in tracing a complete evolutionary history of recently diverged species.