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Keywords:

  • bats;
  • Chiroptera;
  • glacial refugium;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • population structure;
  • STR

Abstract

The distribution of biota from the temperate regions changed considerably during the climatic fluctuations of the Quaternary. This is especially true for many bat species that depend on warm roosts to install their nursery colonies. Surveys of genetic variation among European bats have shown that the southern peninsulas (Iberia and the Balkans) harbour endemic diversity, but to date, no such surveys have been conducted in the third potential glacial refuge area, the Apennine peninsula. We report here the phylogeographical analysis of 115 greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) sampled throughout Italy, and show that 15 of the 18 different haplotypes found in the mitochondrial control region of these bats were unique to the Apennine peninsula. Colonies within this region also showed substantial genetic structure at both mitochondrial (ΦST = 0.47, P < 0.001) and nuclear markers (FST = 0.039, P < 0.001). Based on a comprehensive survey of 575 bats from Europe, these genetic markers further indicate that central Italian populations of M. myotis are more closely related to Greek samples from across the Adriatic Sea, than to other Italian bats. Mouse-eared bat populations from the Apennine peninsula thus represent a complex mixture of several endemic lineages, which evolved in situ, with others that colonized this region more recently along an Adriatic route. Our broad survey also confirms that the Alps represent a relatively impermeable barrier to gene flow for Apennine lineages, even for vagile animals such as bats. These results underline the conservation value of bats from this region and the need to include the Apennine peninsula in phylogeographical surveys in order to provide a more accurate view of the evolution of bats in Europe.