Mitochondrial DNA variation in the cytochrome b (cyt b) gene and the control region was examined in the red fox Vulpes vulpes from Japan, with special focus on the population divergence between Hokkaido and northern Honshu. Resultant haplotypes from Hokkaido were subdivided into two distinct groups (I and II), with an average genetic distance of 0.027 for cyt b. Divergence time is roughly estimated to be 1–2 million years ago, given that the conventional divergence rate of the mammalian cyt b gene is 2% per million years. Notably, Group II was only found in Hokkaido, whereas Group I comprised haplotypes from Honshu, Kyushu (Japan), eastern Russia, and Europe, as indicated by a comparison of our own data to the literature. On the other hand, judging from constructed trees, Group I haplotypes from Hokkaido appeared to differ from those from other parts of Japan, i.e., Honshu and Kyushu. This implies that Blakiston's Line, which demarcates the boundary between Hokkaido and Honshu, has been an effective barrier and has allowed the structuring of genetic variation in maternal lineages. Thus, these results suggest that the Hokkaido population, which is sometimes referred to as the distinct subspecies V. v. schrencki, has its own genetic background with multiple migration events and differs from the parapatric subspecies V. v. japonica found in Honshu and Kyushu.
Japanese red fox