The boreal coniferous forests form the most extended vegetation zone of the Northern Hemisphere. As opposed to North America, they are disconnected from the mountain coniferous forests in Europe, because of the dominant east–west direction of the mountain chains. Consequently, the mountain forests show some unique characteristic features of glacial survival and postglacial history, as well. The mountain coniferous forests have numerous common floral and faunal elements with the boreal zone. However, the few unique faunal elements of the European mountain coniferous forests can be used to unravel the peculiar patterns and processes of this biome. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Thomas Schmitt and Karola Haubrich (2008) use the relatively common and taxonomically well-studied butterfly, the large ringlet (Erebia euryale) to identify the last glacial refugia and postglacial expansion routes.