For hares, variety really is the spice of life

Washington, Nov 23 (ANI): Scientists at University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, have shown that genetic variability is associated with greater reproductive success in hares.

Steve Smith and Franz Suchentrunk at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology have now shown that variation at a particular gene locus in hares can increase their ability to produce young.

The team designed a mathematical model to describe the effects of genetic variation elected to examine the influence of two different sites in the major histocompatability complex (MHC).

MHC genes have recently received a great deal of attention as representing a possible link between genetic variation and fitness.

The team found that females that carry two different versions of a particular MHC locus (i.e. that are are heterozygous at this locus) have a significantly higher reproductive success than homozygous females.

The scientists observed a marked reduction in sterility in heterozygous hares, together with a slight but detectable increase in fecundity ((how many young are produced per fertile individual).

Intriguingly, although the positive effects of heterozygosity could be clearly detected in hares from Belgium they were not found in hares from eastern Austria - probably because of different selection pressures on the two populations.

As Smith said, though, "the difference between Austria and Belgium shows just how complicated the whole question is and thus how hard it is to extrapolate results from one system to another."

The results are published in the October issue of the journal Molecular Ecology. (ANI)

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