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The genetic structure of the mountain forest butterfly Erebia euryale unravels the late Pleistocene and postglacial history of the mountain coniferous forest biome in Europe


Thomas Schmitt, Fax: +49 2013851; E-mail:


The distribution of the mountain coniferous forest biome in Europe throughout time is not sufficiently understood. One character species of this habitat type is the large ringlet, Erebia euryale well reflecting the extension of this biome today, and the genetic differentiation of this species among and within mountain systems may unravel the late Pleistocene history of this habitat type. We therefore analysed the allozyme pattern of 381 E. euryale individuals from 11 populations in four different European mountain systems (Pyrenees, Alps, Carpathians, Rila). All loci analysed were polymorphic. The mean FST over all samples was high (20%). Furthermore, the mean genetic distance among samples was quite high (0.049). We found four different groups well supported by cluster analyses, bootstraps and hierarchical variance analyses: Pyrenees, western Alps, eastern Alps and southeastern Europe (Carpathians and Rila). The genetic diversity of the populations was highest in the southeastern European group and stepwise decreased westwards. Interestingly, the populations from Bulgaria and Romania were almost identical; therefore, we assume that they were not separated by the Danube Valley, at least during the last ice age. On the contrary, the differentiation among the three western Alps populations was considerable. For all these reasons, we assume that (i) the most important refugial area for the coniferous mountain forest biome in Europe has been located in southeastern Europe including at least parts of the Carpathians and the Bulgarian mountains; (ii) important refugial areas for this biome existed at the southeastern edge of the Alps; (iii) fragments of this habitat types survived along the southwestern Alps, but in a more scattered distribution; and (iv) relatively small relicts have persisted somewhere at the foothills of the Pyrenees.