The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is an example of a species that has gone through a severe bottleneck, leading to near extinction in Scandinavia around 1930 — a pattern shared with several other large carnivorous mammals. Here we extend previous genetic analyses of northern European lynx, confirming that lynx from the Scandinavian Peninsula represent a distinct clade differing clearly from European conspecifics. Furthermore, and despite a recent bottleneck and subsequent range expansion, we detect marked genetic differentiation within Scandinavia. This differentiation is largely manifested as a north–south gradient, with a linear increase in the quantity FST/(1 − FST). Aided by computer simulations we find that this pattern is unlikely to have arisen by random genetic drift in the short time since lynx started to expand in the 1950s, suggesting that the spatial structure may predate the bottleneck. Individual-based analyses indicate that, instead of a continuous gradient, Scandinavian lynx may be structured into three more or less distinct groups, possibly corresponding to northern, central and southern subpopulations. The presence of such structuring was unknown previously and was unexpected from general considerations on the mobility of the species, historical data and the absence of geographical barriers. Our study demonstrates how molecular markers may be used to detect cryptic population structure, invisible using traditional methods.
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