Genetic spatial structure of European common hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) — a result of repeated range expansion and demographic bottlenecks


Karsten Neumann, Fax: + 49-(0)345 5527152; E-mail:


The spatial genetic structure of common hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) was investigated using three partial mitochondrial (mt) genes and 11 nuclear microsatellite loci. All marker systems revealed significant population differentiation across Europe. Hamsters in central and western Europe belong largely to two allopatric mitochondrial lineages south and northwest of the Carpathian and Sudetes. The southern group, ‘Pannonia’, comprises populations inside the Carpathian basin (Czech Republic, Hungary) while the second group, ‘North’, includes hamsters from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Isolation of the lineages is maintained by a combination of geographical and ecological barriers. Both main phylogeographical groups show signs of further subdivision. North is separated into highly polymorphic central German and less polymorphic western populations, which most likely split during late glacial expansion (15 000–10 000 bp). Clock estimates based on haplotype distributions predict a divergence of the two major lineages 85 000–147 000 bp. Expansion times fall during the last glaciation (115 000–10 000 bp) corroborating fossil data, which identify Cricetus cricetus as characteristic of colder climatic phases. Despite the allopatry of mt haplotypes, there is an overlap of nuclear microsatellite alleles between phylogeographical units. Although there are strong evidence that Pannonian hamsters have persisted inside the Carpathian basin over the last 50 000 years, genetic differentiation among European hamsters has mainly been caused by immigration from different eastern refugia. Possible source populations are likely to be found in the Ukrainian and the southern Russian plains — core areas of hamster distribution. From there, hamsters have repeatedly expanded during the Quaternary.