Inferring the colonization of a mountain range—refugia vs. nunatak survival in high alpine ground beetles


Konrad Lohse, Fax: +44 (0)131 6506564;


It has long been debated whether high alpine specialists survived ice ages in situ on small ice-free islands of habitat, so-called nunataks, or whether glacial survival was restricted to larger massifs de refuge at the periphery. We evaluate these alternative hypotheses in a local radiation of high alpine carabid beetles (genus Trechus) in the Orobian Alps, Northern Italy. While summits along the northern ridge of this mountain range were surrounded by the icesheet as nunataks during the last glacial maximum, southern areas remained unglaciated. We analyse a total of 1366 bp of mitochondrial (Cox1 and Cox2) data sampled from 150 individuals from twelve populations and 530 bp of nuclear (PEPCK) sequence sampled for a subset of 30 individuals. Using Bayesian inference, we estimate ancestral location states in the gene trees, which in turn are used to infer the most likely order of recolonization under a model of sequential founder events from a massif de refuge from the mitochondrial data. We test for the paraphyly expected under this model and for reciprocal monophyly predicted by a contrasting model of prolonged persistence of nunatak populations. We find that (i) only three populations are incompatible with the paraphyly of the massif de refuge model, (ii) both mitochondrial and nuclear data support separate refugial origins for populations on the western and eastern ends of the northern ridge, and (iii) mitochondrial node ages suggest persistence on the northern ridge for part of the last ice age.