Get access

Population history and genetic structure of a circumpolar species: the arctic fox




The circumpolar arctic fox Alopex lagopus thrives in cold climates and has a high migration rate involving long-distance movements. Thus, it differs from many temperate taxa that were subjected to cyclical restriction in glacial refugia during the Ice Ages. We investigated population history and genetic structure through mitochondrial control region variation in 191 arctic foxes from throughout the arctic. Several haplotypes had a Holarctic distribution and no phylogeographical structure was found. Furthermore, there was no difference in haplotype diversity between populations inhabiting previously glaciated and unglaciated regions. This suggests current gene flow among the studied populations, with the exception of those in Iceland, which is surrounded by year-round open water. Arctic foxes have often been separated into two ecotypes: ‘lemming’ and ‘coastal’. An analysis of molecular variance suggested particularly high gene flow among populations of the ‘lemming’ ecotype. This could be explained by their higher migration rate and reduced fitness in migrants between ecotypes. A mismatch analysis indicated a sudden expansion in population size around 118 000 BP, which coincides with the last interglacial. We propose that glacial cycles affected the arctic fox in a way opposite to their effect on temperate species, with interglacials leading to short-term isolation in northern refugia. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 79–89.

Get access to the full text of this article