We examined the phylogenetic status and history of the mountain hare Lepus timidus in and around Hokkaido using mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) sequences from 158 samples from Hokkaido and 14 from Sakhalin, as well as four samples from the Korean hare, L. coreanus. The phylogenetic analysis of the cyt b sequences generated in this study and obtained from DNA databases showed the clear genetic specificity of the Hokkaido lineage as a clade. The Hokkaido lineage was estimated to have diverged from the other conspecific and L. coreanus lineages 0.46 and 0.30 million years ago (Mya), respectively. These results suggest that the common ancestor of the mitochondrial lineage in Hokkaido and Korea inhabited Far East Asia before colonization by the present continental lineages of L. timidus, including the Sakhalin population. We estimated the time of the most recent common ancestor of the Hokkaido population to be 0.17 Mya, and found two distinct haplogroups within the island. One group had greater genetic diversity (mean number of pairwise differences: π = 0.0188 ± 0.0108) and appears to have expanded from the west to the entire island of Hokkaido. The other had lower genetic diversity (π = 0.0038 ± 0.0037) and its distribution was concentrated in the east. These contrasting west/east trends indicate that the Hokkaido population was fragmented in the past, and then subsequently expanded. Our study suggests that Hokkaido was an important refugium for boreal species in the far eastern region, and allowed the formation of various population genetic structures within the island.
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Vol. 29 • No. 11