The evolutionary pathways for local adaptation in mountain hares

Iwona Giska, João Pimenta, Liliana Farelo, Pierre Boursot, Klaus Hackländer, Hannes Jenny, Neil Reid, W. Ian Montgomery, Paulo A. Prodöhl, Paulo C. Alves, José Melo‐Ferreira

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Understanding the evolution of local adaptations is a central aim of evolutionary biology and key for the identification of unique populations and lineages of conservation relevance. By combining RAD sequencing and whole-genome sequencing, we identify genetic signatures of local adaptation in mountain hares (Lepus timidus) from isolated and distinctive habitats of its wide distribution: Ireland, the Alps and Fennoscandia. Demographic modelling suggested that the split of these mountain hares occurred around 20 thousand years ago, providing the opportunity to study adaptive evolution over a short timescale. Using genome-wide scans, we identified signatures of extreme differentiation among hares from distinct geographic areas that overlap with areaspecific selective sweeps, suggesting targets for local adaptation. Several identified candidate genes are associated with traits related to the uniqueness of the different environments inhabited by the three groups of mountain hares, including coat colour, ability to live at high altitudes and variation in body size. In Irish mountain hares, a variant of ASIP, a gene previously implicated in introgression-driven winter coat colour variation in mountain and snowshoe hares (L. americanus), may underlie brown winter coats, reinforcing the repeated nature of evolution at ASIP moulding adaptive seasonal colouration. Comparative genomic analyses across several hare species suggested that mountain hares’ adaptive variants appear predominantly species-specific. However, using coalescent simulations, we also show instances where the candidate adaptive variants have been introduced via introgressive hybridization. Our study shows that standing adaptive variation, including that introgressed from other species, was a crucial component of the post-glacial dynamics of species.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 07 Jan 2022


  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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