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Glacial survival of the Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus) in Scandinavia: inference from mitochondrial DNA variation

V. B. Fedorov, N. C. Stenseth


In order to evaluate the biogeographical hypothesis that the Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus) survived the last glacial period in some Scandinavian refugia, we examined variation in the nucleotide sequence of the mitochondrial control region (402 base pairs (bp)) and the cytochrome b (cyt b) region (633 bp) in Norwegian and Siberian (Lemmus sibiricus) lemmings. The phylogenetic distinction and cyt b divergence estimate of 1.8% between the Norwegian and Siberian lemmings suggest that their separation pre–dated the last glaciation and imply that the Norwegian lemming is probably a relic of the Pleistocene populations from Western Europe. The star–like control region phylogeny and low mitochondrial DNA diversity in the Norwegian lemming indicate a reduction in its historical effective size followed by population expansion. The average estimate of post–bottleneck time (19–21kyr) is close to the last glacial maximum (18–22 kyr BP). Taking these findings and the fossil records into consideration, it seems likely that, after colonization of Scandinavia in the Late Pleistocene, the Norwegian lemming suffered a reduction in its population effective size and survived the last glacial maximum in some local Scandinavian refugia, as suggested by early biogeographical work.

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