The colonisation history and genetic structure of the common vole (Microtus arvalis) was investigated in the region of the Alps by analysing the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (mtDNA) and 19 microsatellite loci (nucDNA) for 137 voles from 52 localities. mtDNA data provided a much refined distribution of three highly divergent evolutionary lineages in the region compared to previous studies. Although high mountain ranges are widely accepted to be barriers for colonisation processes for many organisms and especially small terrestrial mammals, our phylogeographic analyses showed clear evidence of four transalpine colonisation events by the common vole. Individual-based phylogenetic analyses of nucDNA and two alternative Bayesian-clustering approaches revealed a deep genetic structure analogous to mtDNA. Incongruence between nucDNA and mtDNA at the individual level was restricted to the regions of contact between the lineages. mtDNA patterns and strong female philopatry in M. arvalis suggest that the crossings of the Alps occurred during the colonisation of the region when it was free from ice after the last glaciation. nucDNA patterns suggest that some of the transalpine elements of this phylogeographic pattern were subsequently eroded by male-biased gene flow. We conclude that the combination of phylogeography and landscape genetics at the individual level can provide very detailed insights into colonisation events and may even allow differentiation between historical and more recent processes.
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