Genetic and karyotypic structure in the shrews of the Sorex araneus group: are they independent?


Patrick Basset, Fax: +41 21 692 41 65; E-mail:


The species of the common shrew (Sorex araneus) group are morphologically very similar but exhibit high levels of karyotypic variation. Here we used genetic variation at 10 microsatellite markers in a data set of 212 individuals mostly sampled in the western Alps and composed of five karyotypic taxa (Sorex coronatus, Sorex antinorii and the S. araneus chromosome races Cordon, Bretolet and Vaud) to investigate the concordance between genetic and karyotypic structure. Bayesian analysis confirmed the taxonomic status of the three sampled species since individuals consistently grouped according to their taxonomical status. However, introgression can still be detected between S. antinorii and the race Cordon of S. araneus. This observation is consistent with the expected low karyotypic complexity of hybrids between these two taxa. Geographically based cryptic substructure was discovered within S. antinorii, a pattern consistent with the different postglaciation recolonization routes of this species. Additionally, we detected two genetic groups within S. araneus notwithstanding the presence of three chromosome races. This pattern can be explained by the probable hybrid status of the Bretolet race but also suggests a relatively low impact of chromosomal differences on genetic structure compared to historical factors. Finally, we propose that the current data set (available at could be used as a reference by those wanting to identify Sorex individuals sampled in the western Alps.