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Phylogeography of endemic ermine (Mustela erminea) in southeast Alaska

Authors

  • Melissa A. Fleming,

    Corresponding author
    1. * University of Alaska Museum, 907 Yukon Drive Fairbanks, Alaska 99775–6960, Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho 83209–8007
      Melissa A. Flemming. †Present address: Human Biology, D4-100, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109 USA. Fax: 206 6672917; E-mail: mfleming@fhcrc.org
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  • and * Joseph A. Cook *

    1. * University of Alaska Museum, 907 Yukon Drive Fairbanks, Alaska 99775–6960, Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho 83209–8007
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Melissa A. Flemming. †Present address: Human Biology, D4-100, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109 USA. Fax: 206 6672917; E-mail: mfleming@fhcrc.org

Abstract

The North Pacific Coast (NPC) of North America is a region of high mammalian endemism, possibly due to its highly fragmented landscape and complex glacial history. For example, four island and one mainland subspecies of ermine, Mustela erminea, have been described as endemic to southeast Alaska alone. To better understand the role of past climatic change in generating diversity in the region, we examined DNA sequence variation in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene of 210 ermine from across North America, with an emphasis on Alaska and British Columbia. We found three distinct (1.5–3.6% uncorrected ‘p’) lineages of ermine, all of which occur in southeast Alaska. One lineage includes a southeast Alaska endemic and specimens from Alaska (outside of southeast) and Eurasia. A second lineage includes two southeast Alaskan endemics and ermine from western Canada and the coterminous United States. The close relationships of these purported endemics to ermine outside of southeast Alaska suggest that they colonized the region from Beringian and southern glacial refugia, respectively, following deglaciation of the NPC. The third lineage appears restricted to the Prince of Wales Island complex in southeast Alaska (two subspecies) and Graham Island (Haida Gwaii), British Columbia. This restricted distribution suggests that these populations may be derived from relicts that persisted in a coastal refugium during the Wisconsin glaciation. Studies of nuclear genes and adaptive morphological evolution are necessary to further explore discrepancies between the geographical pattern of differentiation based on mtDNA and the existing subspecific taxonomy based on morphology.

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