Effects of late quaternary climate change on Palearctic shrews


Correspondence: Stefan Prost, tel./fax 0064 22 6214399,e-mail:


The Late Quaternary was a time of rapid climatic oscillations and drastic environmental changes. In general, species can respond to such changes by behavioral accommodation, distributional shifts, ecophenotypic modifications (nongenetic), evolution (genetic) or ultimately face local extinction. How those responses manifested in the past is essential for properly predicting future ones especially as the current warm phase is further intensified by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Here, we use ancient DNA (aDNA) and morphological features in combination with ecological niche modeling (ENM) to investigate genetic and nongenetic responses of Central European Palearctic shrews to past climatic change. We show that a giant form of shrew, previously described as an extinct Pleistocene Sorex species, represents a large ecomorph of the common shrew (Sorex araneus), which was replaced by populations from a different gene-pool and with different morphology after the Pleistocene Holocene transition. We also report the presence of the cold-adapted tundra shrew (S. tundrensis) in Central Europe. This species is currently restricted to Siberia and was hitherto unknown as an element of the Pleistocene fauna of Europe. Finally, we show that there is no clear correlation between climatic oscillations within the last 50 000 years and body size in shrews and conclude that a special nonanalogous situation with regard to biodiversity and food supply in the Late Glacial may have caused the observed large body size.