Nested clade analysis was applied to cytochrome b restriction site data previously obtained on 20 natural populations of the European rabbit across the Iberian Peninsula to test the hypothesis of postglacial dispersal from two main refugia, one in the northeast and the other in the southwest. Apart from historical fragmentation that resulted in geographic discontinuity of two distinct mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) clades A and B, patterns of haplotype genetic variability have been shaped mostly by restricted gene flow via isolation by distance. The distribution of tip versus interior haplotypes suggests that dispersal occurred from both the southwestern and northeastern groups. Dispersal from the southwest had a north and northwest direction, whereas from the northeast it had mostly a western and southern orientation, with subsequent overlap in a southeastern-northwestern axis across the Iberian Peninsula. The analysis of the pairwise mismatch distribution of a 179–181-bp fragment of the mtDNA control region, for seven of those populations, further supports the idea that major patterns of dispersal were in the direction of central Iberia. Additionally, rabbit populations do not show signs of any significant loss of genetic diversity in the recent past, implying that they maintained large population sizes and structure throughout the ice ages. This is congruent with the fact that the Iberian Peninsula was itself a glacial refugium during Quaternary ice ages. Nonetheless, climatic oscillations of this period, although certainly milder than in northern Europe, were sufficient to affect the range distributions of Iberian organisms.
Corresponding Editor: O. Savolainen