We examined cytochrome b sequence variation in 251 ornate shrews (Sorex ornatus) from 20 localities distributed throughout their geographical range. Additionally, vagrant (S. vagrans) and montane (S. monticolus) shrews from four localities were used as outgroups. We found 24 haplotypes in ornate shrews from California (USA) and Baja California (Mexico) that differed by 1–31 substitutions in 392 bp of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence. In a subset of individuals, we sequenced 699 bp of cytochrome b to better resolve the phylogeographic relationships of populations. The ornate shrew is phylogeographically structured into three haplotype clades representing southern, central and northern localities. Analysis of allozyme variation reveals a similar pattern of variation. Several other small California vertebrates have a similar tripartite pattern of genetic subdivision. We suggest that topographic barriers and expansion and contraction of wetland habitats in the central valley during Pleistocene glacial cycles account for these patterns of genetic variation. Remarkably, the northern ornate shrew clade is phylogenetically clustered with another species of shrew suggesting that it may be a unique lowland form of the vagrant shrew that evolved in parallel to their southern California counterparts.
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