Northern glacial refugia for the pygmy shrew Sorex minutus in Europe revealed by phylogeographic analyses and species distribution modelling


  • Rodrigo Vega,

  • Camilla Fløjgaard,

  • Andrés Lira-Noriega,

  • Yoshinori Nakazawa,

  • Jens-Christian Svenning,

  • Jeremy B. Searle

R. Vega ( and J. B. Searle, Dept of Biology, Univ. of York, PO Box 373, York YO10 5YW, UK. (Present address of R. V.: Dept of Entomology, Comstock Hall 5123, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.) – C. Fløjgaard, Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity Group, Dept of Biological Sciences, Aarhus Univ., Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C., Denmark and Dept of Wildlife Ecology and Biodiversity, National Environmental Research Inst., Aarhus Univ., Grenaavej 14, DK-8410 Rønde, Denmark. – A. Lira-Noriega and Y. Nakazawa, Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, The Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA. – J.-C. Svenning, Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity Group, Dept of Biological Sciences, Aarhus Univ., Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C., Denmark.


The southern European peninsulas (Iberian, Italian and Balkan) are traditionally recognized as glacial refugia from where many species colonized central and northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). However, evidence that some species had more northerly refugia is accumulating from phylogeographic, palaeontological and palynological studies, and more recently from species distribution modelling (SDM), but further studies are needed to test the idea of northern refugia in Europe. Here, we take a rarely implemented multidisciplinary approach to assess if the pygmy shrew Sorex minutus, a widespread Eurasian mammal species, had northern refugia during the LGM, and if these influenced its postglacial geographic distribution. First, we evaluated the phylogeographic and population expansion patterns using mtDNA sequence data from 123 pygmy shrews. Then, we used SDM to predict present and past (LGM) potential distributions using two different training data sets, two different algorithms (Maxent and GARP) and climate reconstructions for the LGM with two different general circulation models. An LGM distribution in the southern peninsulas was predicted by the SDM approaches, in line with the occurrence of lineages of S. minutus in these areas. The phylogeographic analyses also indicated a widespread and strictly northern-central European lineage, not derived from southern peninsulas, and with a postglacial population expansion signature. This was consistent with the SDM predictions of suitable LGM conditions for S. minutus occurring across central and eastern Europe, from unglaciated parts of the British Isles to much of the eastern European Plain. Hence, S. minutus likely persisted in parts of central and eastern Europe during the LGM, from where it colonized other northern areas during the late-glacial and postglacial periods. Our results provide new insights into the glacial and postglacial colonization history of the European mammal fauna, notably supporting glacial refugia further north than traditionally recognized.