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Keywords:

  • Calabria;
  • evolution;
  • forest-living mammal;
  • glacial refugium;
  • squirrel;
  • subspecies

Abstract

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a well-known forest animal distributed all over Europe. Still, we are far from having a firm knowledge of the species’ phylogeography. This study investigates the genetic differentiation of S. vulgaris across the species’ Eurasian range, using sequence data from the mitochondrial DNA gene (D-loop, 252 base pairs, cytochrome b, 359 base pairs), and eight variable autosomal microsatellite loci genotyped for 236 individuals. The results reveal the presence of two main mitochondrial phylogroups. The first clade comprises the individuals from the region of Calabria in southern Italy, belonging to the subspecies S. v. meridionalis, while the second clade contains the remainder of the studied individuals. Bayesian analysis of microsatellite genotypes resulted in three main clusterings corresponding to the three S. vulgaris subspecies: infuscatus, meridionalis and fuscoater. Geographical distribution of mtDNA haplotypes and mismatch analysis suggest a common refugium for the red squirrel across most of its present range from which expansion happened rather rapidly. The genotype mixing of italicus with northern populations could be a residual of postglacial expansion. The lack of mixing between the Calabrian lineage and the rest of European red squirrel haplotypes can be seen as evidence for distinct histories throughout the Pleistocene. Calabrian mtDNA probably diverged in an ice age contraction and remained isolated from the neighbouring squirrel populations until very recent times.