Holarctic phylogeography of the root vole (Microtus oeconomus): implications for late Quaternary biogeography of high latitudes


Cecilia Brunhoff. Fax: + 46 46 14 78 74; E-mail: Cecilia.Brunhoff@cob.lu.se


A species-wide phylogeographical study of the root vole (Microtus oeconomus) was performed using the whole 1140 base pair mitochondrial (mt) cytochrome b gene. We examined 83 specimens from 52 localities resulting in 65 unique haplotypes. Our results demonstrate that the root vole is divided into four main mtDNA phylogenetic lineages that seem to have largely allopatric distributions. Net divergence estimates (2.0–3.5%) between phylogroups, as well as relatively high nucleotide diversity estimates within phylogroups, indicate that the distinct phylogeographical structure was initiated by historical events that predated the latest glaciation. European root voles are divided into a Northern and a Central mtDNA phylogroup. The mtDNA data in concert with fossil records imply that root voles remained north of the classical refugial areas in southern Europe during the last glacial period. The currently fragmented populations in central Europe belong to a single mtDNA phylogroup. The Central Asian and the North European lineages are separated by the Ural Mountains, a phylogeographical split also found in collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx) and the common vole (M. arvalis). The Beringian lineage occurs from eastern Russia through Alaska to northwestern Canada. This distribution is congruent with the traditional boundaries of the Beringian refugium and with phylogeographical work on other organisms. In conclusion, similarities between the phylogeographical patterns in the root vole and other rodents, such as Arctic and subarctic lemmings, as well as more temperate vole species, indicate that late Quaternary geological and climatic events played a strong role in structuring northern biotic communities.