Circumpolar speciation in the genus Lepus: resolving (sub-)specific status
Background and significance of research: -
The taxonomy and systematics of the genus Lepus (hares and jackrabbits) is poorly resolved with phylogenetic studies yielding varying and conflicting results depending on the molecular markers used due to the prevalence of ancient and contemporary hybridization between species. The mountain hare (L. timidus) has a circumpolar distribution and is considered by some to be a sister species with the Arctic (L. arcticus) and Alaskan hare (L. othus) consisting of 16 sub-species. Where molecular data have hitherto been lacking other features may be used to bolster specific status, principally phenotype, morphology, behaviour (e.g. habitat niche and diet) and other traits. Compiling these data should be relatively straightforward by using museum species throughout Europe, Russia and North America, adding data to existing phylogenies to resolve the status of sub-species or species using a holistic approach. This is especially pertinent for the Irish hare (L. t. hibernicus) which may warrant full species status, making it the only mammal endemic to Ireland and elevating its importance under European legislation. However, for such a change to be made objective data are required in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Research aims: -
To gather pelt and skeletal measurements from mountain hare sub-species, Arctic and Alaskan hares from museum specimens. Examine dissimilarities in pelage colouration, adaptive morphology and other fundamental traits such as body size. Species records will be used to examine habitat niche whilst a literature review will focus on diet. The ultimate aim is to integrate various sources of data with existing genetic phylogenies to resolve a composite dendrogram of species (dis)similarity to resolve (sub-)specific status.
The project will be supervised by Dr Neil Reid, Professor Paulo Prodöhl, and Professor Ian Montgomery of Queen's University School of Biological Sciences
This research project is in competition for funding with other projects offered by the School. The projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded funding from DEL (Department for Employment and Learning).
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