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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Aug 7;270(1524):1593-9.

How did pygmy shrews colonize Ireland? Clues from a phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences.

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  • 1Deaprtment of Biology (area 2), University of York, PO Box 373, York YO10 5YW, UK.


There is a long-standing debate as to how Ireland attained its present fauna; we help to inform this debate with a molecular study of one species. A 1110 base pair fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene was sequenced in 74 specimens of the pygmy shrew, Sorex minutus, collected from throughout its western Palaearctic range. Phylogenetic analysis of these sequences revealed several well-supported lineages. Most of the 65 haplotypes belonged to a northern lineage, which ranged from Britain in the west to Lake Baikal in the east. The other lineages were largely limited to Iberia, Italy and the Balkans. One exception, however, was a lineage found in both Ireland and Andorra. This affinity, and the large difference between the mitochondrial sequences of Irish and British individuals, suggest that pygmy shrews did not colonize Ireland via a land connection from Britain, as has been previously supposed, but instead were introduced by boat from southwest continental Europe. All the Irish pygmy shrews analysed were identical or very similar in cytochrome b sequence, suggesting an extreme founding event.

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