• microsatellites;
  • principal component analysis;
  • population genetics;
  • Sorex araneus;
  • Y-chromosome


Using one male-inherited and eight biparentally inherited microsatellite markers, we investigate the population genetic structure of the Valais chromosome race of the common shrew (Sorex araneus) in the Central Alps of Europe. Unexpectedly, the Y-chromosome microsatellite suggests nearly complete absence of male gene flow among populations from the St-Bernard and Simplon regions (Switzerland). Autosomal markers also show significant genetic structuring among these two geographical areas. Isolation by distance is significant and possible barriers to gene flow exist in the study area. Two different approaches are used to better understand the geographical patterns and the causes of this structuring. Using a principal component analysis for which testing procedure exists, and partial Mantel tests, we show that the St-Bernard pass does not represent a significant barrier to gene flow although it culminates at 2469 m, close to the highest altitudinal record for this species. Similar results are found for the Simplon pass, indicating that both passes represented potential postglacial recolonization routes into Switzerland from Italian refugia after the last Pleistocene glaciations. In contrast with the weak effect of these mountain passes, the Rhône valley lowlands significantly reduce gene flow in this species. Natural obstacles (the large Rhône river) and unsuitable habitats (dry slopes) are both present in the valley. Moreover, anthropogenic changes to landscape structures are likely to have strongly reduced available habitats for this shrew in the lowlands, thereby promoting genetic differentiation of populations found on opposite sides of the Rhône valley.