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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2002;96(1-4):85-96.

Alps, genes, and chromosomes: their role in the formation of species in the Sorex araneus group (Mammalia, Insectivora), as inferred from two hybrid zones.

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Institute of Ecology, Laboratory of Zoology and Animal Ecology, Lausanne, Switzerland.


During the Pleistocene glaciations, the Alps were an efficient barrier to gene flow between isolated populations, often leading to allopatric speciation. Afterwards, the Alps strongly influenced the post-glacial recolonization of Europe and represent a major suture zone between differentiated populations. Two hybrid zones in the Swiss and French Alps between genetically and chromosomally well-differentiated species-the Valais shrew, Sorex antinorii, and the common shrew, S. araneus-were studied karyotypically and by analyzing the distribution of seven microsatellite loci. In the center of the Haslital hybrid zone the two species coexist over a distance of 900 m. Hybrid karyotypes, among them the most complex known in Sorex, are rare. F-statistics based on microsatellite data revealed a strong heterozygote deficit only in the center of the zone, due to the sympatric distribution of the two species with little hybridization between them. Structuring within the species (both F(IS) and F(ST)) was low. An hierarchical analysis showed a high level of interspecific differentiation. Results were compared with those previously reported in another hybrid zone located at Les Houches in the French Alps. Genetic structuring within and between species was comparable in both hybrid zones, although chromosomal incompatibilities are more important in Haslital, where a linkage block of the race-specific chromosomes should additionally impede gene flow. Evidence for a more restricted gene flow in Haslital comes from the genetically intermediate hybrid karyotypes, whereas in Les Houches, hybrid karyotypes are genetically identical to individuals of the pure karyotypic races. Genic and chromosomal introgression was observed in Les Houches, but not in Haslital. The possible influence of a river, separating the two species at Les Houches, on gene flow is discussed.

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