Evolution rampant: house mice on Madeira



R. J. Berry; E-mail: rjberry@ucl.ac.uk


House mice are extra-ordinary animals –extra-ordinary in the literal sense of that word. They are pests – but also a valued laboratory animal. They are generalized rodents – and successful in habitats from tundra to tropics and from sea-level to high altitudes. They have differentiated into a perplexity of taxa, yet differ little in their general morphology. They were long scorned by ecologists as recently arrived commensals, but are increasingly illuminating evolutionary processes as new techniques are applied to their study. Local forms, once valued only by taxonomists, are proving ever more interesting as their genetics are probed. In 1992, Mathias & Mira described the apparently unexciting characteristics of mice living on the two main islands of the Madeira group, 600 km west of continental Portugal. Then in 2000, Britton-Davidian et al. discovered that there were at least six chromosomal (Robertsonian) races on the main island. In the past decade, studies of molecular and mitochondrial genomes have shown an array of variables and posed questions about the origins and subsequent evolution of these island mice. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Förster et al. report on the mtDNA haplotypes found on the island and in mainland Portugal, discuss the probable source of the island colonizers, and consider data which might give information about the timing of the colonizing event(s).