During the last 2 decades, European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) populations have declined considerably. We evaluated whether this decline could have been associated with diminished overall fitness due to reduced genetic variability. We also estimated the extent of population differentiation. We typed 307 hares from 21 localities for 5 microsatellite loci and the mitochondrial d-loop. Analysis of molecular variance revealed a high degree of genetic variability, matrilinearily structured populations, male-biased gene flow, and lack of inbreeding. We did not identify any geographical or anthropogenic barriers to gene flow. Because extant populations are small and susceptible to random genetic drift, we recommend changes to current population management practices and periodic genetic surveys.
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Vol. 69 • No. 2