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Eastern Beringian biogeography: historical and spatial genetic structure of singing voles in Alaska

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Abstract Aim 

Pleistocene climatic cycles have left marked signatures in the spatial and historical genetic structure of high-latitude organisms. We examine the mitochondrial (cytochrome b) genetic structure of the singing vole, Microtus miurus (Rodentia: Cricetidae: Arvicolinae), a member of the Pleistocene Beringian fauna, and of the insular vole, Microtus abbreviatus, its putative sister species found only on the St Matthew Archipelago. We reconstruct the phylogenetic and phylogeographical structure of these taxa, characterize their geographical partitioning and date coalescent and cladogenetic events in these species. Finally, we compare the recovered results with the phylogenetic, coalescent and spatial genetic patterns of other eastern Beringian mammals and high-latitude arvicoline rodents. Location 

Continental Alaska (alpine and arctic tundra) and the St Matthew Archipelago (Bering Sea). Methods 

We generated and analysed cytochrome b sequences of 97 singing and insular voles (M. miurus and M. abbreviatus) from Alaska. Deep evolutionary structure was inferred by phylogenetic analysis using parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches; the geographical structure of genetic diversity was assessed using analysis of molecular variance and network analysis; ages of cladogenetic and coalescent events were estimated using a relaxed molecular clock model with Bayesian approximation. Results 

Regional nucleotide diversity in singing voles is higher than in other high-latitude arvicoline species, but intra-population diversity is within the observed range of values for arvicolines. Microtus abbreviatus specimens are phylogenetically nested within M. miurus. Molecular divergence date estimates indicate that current genetic diversity was formed in the last glacial (Wisconsinan) and previous interglacial (Sangamonian) periods, with the exception of a Middle Pleistocene split found between samples collected in the Wrangell Mountains region and all other singing vole samples. Main conclusions 

High levels of phylogenetic and spatial structure are observed among analysed populations. This pattern is consistent with that expected for a taxon with a long history in Beringia. The spatial genetic structure of continental singing voles differs in its northern and southern ranges, possibly reflecting differences in habitat distribution between arctic and alpine tundra. Our phylogenetic results support the taxonomic inclusion of M. miurus in its senior synonym, M. abbreviatus.

Keywords: Alaska; Cricetidae; Microtus abbreviatus; Microtus miurus; Pleistocene glaciation; Rodentia; cytochrome b; microrefugia; phylogeography; social structure

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Alaska Museum, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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