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Keywords:

  • DNA sequence;
  • range change;
  • population structure;
  • refugia;
  • genetic divergence;
  • biodiversity;
  • phylogeography;
  • hybrid zones;
  • palaeoclimate;
  • speciation

Population structure is the result of both present processes and past history. Molecular markers are proving of great value in describing the former, and it is important to similarly determine the latter in order to understand their respective contributions. The study of palaeo-climates has also advanced significantly, and in particular that of the Pleistocene ice ages, which modified species ranges considerably. The last ice age and rapid post-glacial colonization of Europe is summarized. Possible population genetic consequences of expansion northward from southern refugia, and those of remaining in these mountainous regions are discussed. A series of recent case studies are detailed where DNA sequence information has been used to describe species genetic variation and subdivision across Europe. These include a grasshopper, the hedgehog, oak trees, the common beech, the black alder, the brown bear, newts, shrews, water vole, silver fir and house mice. These molecular data confirm southern peninsulas of Europe as major ice age refugia, and in most cases demonstrate that genetically distinct taxa emerged from them. They can thus define genomic differences and so gready augment previous fossil data. The refugial genomes contributed differently in various species to die re-colonization of Europe, with three broad patterns described as paradigms–‘grasshopper’, ‘hedgehog’ and ‘bear’. These different expansion patterns produced clusters of hybrid zones where they made contact, and it is argued that many species genomes may be further cryptically subdivided. A reduction in diversity from southern to northern Europe in the extent of allelic variation and species subdivision is seen; this is attributed to rapid expansion northward and the varied topography of southern refugia allowing populations to diverge through several ice ages. The differences in DNA sequence indicate that some species have been diverging in refugial regions for a few ice ages at most, whilst distinct lineages in other species suggest much more ancient separation.