• ancient DNA;
  • Arvicolinae;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • Pleistocene;
  • refugia;
  • Rodentia


Collared lemmings (genus Dicrostonyx) are circumpolar Arctic arvicoline rodents associated with tundra. However, during the last glacial maximum (LGM), Dicrostonyx lived along the southern ice margin of the Laurentide ice sheet in communities comprising both temperate and boreal species. To better understand these communities and the fate of these southern individuals, we compare mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence data from three LGM-age Dicrostonyx fossils from south of the Laurentide ice sheet to sequences from modern Dicrostonyx sampled from across their present-day range. We test whether the Dicrostonyx populations from LGM-age continental USA became extinct at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition ~11000 years ago or, alternatively, if they belong to an extant species whose habitat preferences can be used to infer the palaeoclimate along the glacial margin. Our results indicate that LGM-age Dicrostonyx from Iowa and South Dakota belong to Dicrostonyx richardsoni, which currently lives in a temperate tundra environment west of Hudson Bay, Canada. This suggests a palaeoclimate south of the Laurentide ice sheet that contains elements similar to the more temperate shrub tundra characteristic of extant D. richardsoni habitat, rather than the very cold, dry tundra of the Northern Arctic. While more data are required to determine whether or not the LGM southern population is ancestral to extant D. richardsoni, it seems most probable that the species survived the LGM in a southern refugium.