Phylogeography and Pleistocene refugia of the adder (Vipera berus) as inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequence data

  • Ursenbacher S
  • Carlsson M
  • Helfer V
 et al. 
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In order to contribute to the debate about southern glacial refugia used by temperate species and more northern refugia used by boreal or cold-temperate species, we examined the phylogeography of a widespread snake species ( Vipera berus ) inhabiting Europe up to the Arctic Circle. The analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation in 1043 bp of the cytochrome b gene and in 918 bp of the noncoding control region was performed with phylogenetic approaches. Our results suggest that both the duplicated control region and cytochrome b evolve at a similar rate in this species. Phylogenetic analysis showed that V. berus is divided into three major mitochondrial lineages, probably resulting from an Italian, a Balkan and a Northern (from France to Russia) refugial area in Eastern Europe, near the Carpathian Mountains. In addition, the Northern clade presents an important substructure, suggesting two sequential colonization events in Europe. First, the continent was colonized from the three main refugial areas mentioned above during the Lower-Mid Pleistocene. Second, recolonization of most of Europe most likely originated from several refugia located outside of the Mediterranean peninsulas (Carpathian region, east of the Carpathians, France and possibly Hungary) during the Mid-Late Pleistocene, while populations within the Italian and Balkan Peninsulas fluctuated only slightly in distribution range, with larger lowland populations during glacial times and with refugial mountain populations during interglacials, as in the present time. The phylogeographical structure revealed in our study suggests complex recolonization dynamics of the European continent by V. berus , characterized by latitudinal as well as altitudinal range shifts, driven by both climatic changes and competition with related species.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Colonization history
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Molecular phylogeography
  • Snake
  • Vipera berus

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  • S. Ursenbacher

  • M. Carlsson

  • V. Helfer

  • H. Tegelström

  • L. Fumagalli

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