Rangewide phylogeography in the greater horseshoe bat inferred from microsatellites: implications for population history, taxonomy and conservation


Stephen Rossiter, Fax: 0044 208983 0973; E-mail: s.j.rossiter@qmul.ac.uk


The distribution of genetic variability across a species’ range can provide valuable insights into colonization history. To assess the relative importance of European and Asian refugia in shaping current levels of genetic variation in the greater horseshoe bats, we applied a microsatellite-based approach to data collected from 56 localities ranging from the UK to Japan. A decline in allelic richness from west Asia to the UK and analyses of FST both imply a northwestward colonization across Europe. However, sharp discontinuities in gene frequencies within Europe and between the Balkans and west Asia (Syria/Russia) are consistent with suture zones following expansion from multiple refugia, and a lack of recent gene flow from Asia Minor. Together, these results suggest European populations originated from west Asia in the ancient past, and experienced a more recent range expansion since the Last Glacial Maximum. Current populations in central Europe appear to originate from the Balkans and those from west Europe from either Iberia and/or Italy. Comparisons of RST and FST suggest that stepwise mutation has contributed to differentiation between island and continental populations (France/UK and China/Japan) and also among distant samples. However, pairwise RST values between distant populations appear to be unreliable, probably due to size homoplasy. Our findings also highlight two priorities for conservation. First, stronger genetic subdivision within the UK than across 4000 km of continental Eurasia is most likely the result of population fragmentation and highlights the need to maintain gene flow in this species. Second, deep splits within China and between Europe and China are indicative of cryptic taxonomic divisions which need further investigation.