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Genetic and morphological variation in a Mediterranean glacial refugium: evidence from Italian pygmy shrews, Sorex minutus (Mammalia: Soricomorpha)

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At the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the southern European peninsulas were important refugia for temperate species. Current genetic subdivision of species within these peninsulas may reflect past population subdivision at the LGM, as in ‘refugia within refugia’, and/or at other time periods. In the present study, we assess whether pygmy shrew populations from different regions within Italy are genetically and morphologically distinct. One maternally and two paternally inherited molecular markers (cytochrome b and Y-chromosome introns, respectively) were analysed using several phylogenetic methods. A geometric morphometric analysis was performed on mandibles to evaluate size and shape variability between populations. Mandible shape was also explored with a functional approach that considered the mandible as a first-order lever affecting bite force. We found genetically and morphologically distinct European, Italian, and southern Italian groups. Mandible size increased with decreasing latitude and southern Italian pygmy shrews exhibited mandibles with the strongest bite force. It is not clear whether or not the southern Italian and Italian groups of pygmy shrews occupied different refugia within the Italian peninsula at the LGM. It is likely, however, that geographic isolation earlier than the LGM on islands at the site of present-day Calabria was important in generating the distinctive southern Italian group of pygmy shrews, and also the genetic groups in other small vertebrates that we review here. Calabria is an important hotspot for genetic diversity, and is worthy of conservation attention. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 100, 774–787.
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Keywords: Calabria; Italy; Y-chromosome introns; cytochrome b; geometric morphometrics; phylogeography; refugia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: CNR, Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Via A. Borelli 50, 00161 Rome, Italy 2: Dipartimento di Ecologia, Università della Calabria, Via P. Bucci, s.n., 87036 Rende, Italy 3: Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie per l'Ambiente e il Territorio, Università del Molise, Via Mazzini 8, I-86170 Isernia, Italy

Publication date: 01 August 2010

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