Aim: The majority of the non-volant mammals now present on the island of Gotland, Sweden, have been introduced in modern times. One exception is the mountain hare (Lepus timidus), which was present on the island more than 9000 years ago. This paper investigates the origins of the Gotland hares and temporal changes in their genetic structure, and considers how they may have reached the island.
Location: The island of Gotland, Sweden (57°30′ N, 18°20′ E).
Methods: Two fragments of the mitochondrial D-loop 130 + 164 base pairs in length from skeletal remains from 40 ancient mountain hares from Gotland, 38 from the Swedish mainland and five from Lithuania were analysed and compared with 90 modern L. timidus haplotypes from different locations in Eurasia and five haplotypes of the Don-hare (Lepus tanaiticus) morphotype.
Results: The Mesolithic hares from Gotland (7304 bc–5989 bc) cluster with modern hares from Russia, Scotland, the Alps and Fennoscandia whereas the Gotland hares from the Neolithic and onwards (2848 bc–1641 ad) cluster with Neolithic hares from the Swedish mainland and modern hares from Fennoscandia. The Neolithic haplotypes from Lithuania and the Don-hare haplotypes were dispersed within the network. The level of differentiation (FST) between the Mesolithic and Neolithic hares on Gotland was twice as great as that observed on the mainland.
Main conclusions: The ancient hares on Gotland fall into two haplogroups separated in time, indicating that the mountain hare became extinct at one point, with subsequent re-colonization events. In view of the isolated location of Gotland, it is probable that the hares were brought there by human means of transport.
2016. Vol. 43, no 9, 1786-1796 p.