Evaluation of genetic variability in brown hare populations from two protected areas in northern Italy
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Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale del Piemonte, Liguria e Valle d’Aosta, Via Bologna 148, 10154 Torino, Italy
Azienda Sanitaria Locale di Alessandria (ASL AL), Viale Giolitti 2, 15030 Casale Monferrato (AL), Italy
Dipartimento di Biologia Animale, Università degli Studi di Pavia, Via Ferrata 9, 27100 Pavia, Italy
Publication date: 2012-02-23
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2011;22(2)

The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is widely distributed throughout Europe where it constitutes an important game species. However, there is concern about its conservation because the number of European hares has drastically declined in Europe since the 1960s and the species is now considered at low risk of extinction. During the last decades, several countries have carried out restocking programs with the introduction of allochthonous individuals. We analyzed 109 blood samples from two brown hare populations captured in two protected areas in northern Italy, where no animals have been released in the last 20 years, to assess genetic variability and inbreeding status for management and conservation purposes. For this study, eight microsatellites markers were selected from those described in the literature and two multiplex PCR reactions were optimised. The number of alleles per locus, allelic frequencies, observed and expected heterozygosity, and inbreeding coefficient were then calculated.

Our results revealed good genetic variability in both populations. Analysis of brown hare populations in a larger number of protected areas would be useful for improving their management through wider genetic characterization of populations for restocking programs, more accurate measurement of their genetic distances, evaluation of the reduction in their genetic variability and gene flows among adjacent areas, and perhaps detection of the introduction of allochthonous animals.