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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2004 Jun;31(3):1114-26.

Mitochondrial phylogeography of the long-eared bats (Plecotus) in the Mediterranean Palaearctic and Atlantic Islands.

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Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), P.O. Box 1056, 41080 Seville, Spain.


Long-eared bats of the genus Plecotus are widespread and common over most of the western Palaearctic. Based on recent molecular evidence, they proved to represent a complex of several cryptic species, with three new species being described from Europe in 2002. Evolutionary relationships among the different lineages are still fragmentary because of the limited geographic coverage of previous studies. Here we analyze Plecotus mitochondrial DNA sequences from the entire Mediterranean region and Atlantic Islands. Phylogenetic reconstructions group these western Palaearctic Plecotus into two major clades which split at least 5 Myr ago and that are each subdivided into further subgroups. An 'auritus group' includes the traditional P. auritus species and its sister taxon P. macrobullaris (=P. alpinus) plus related specimens from the Middle East. P. auritus and P. macrobullaris have broadly overlapping distributions in Europe, although the latter is apparently more restricted to mountain ranges. The other major clade, the 'austriacus group,' includes the European species P. austriacus and at least two other related taxa from North Africa (including P. teneriffae from the Canary Islands), the Balkans and Anatolia (P. kolombatovici). The sister species of this 'austriacus group' is P. balensis, an Ethiopian endemic. Phylogenetic reconstructions further suggest that P. austriacus reached Madeira during its relatively recent westward expansion through Europe, while the Canary Islands were colonized by a North African ancestor. Although colonization of the two groups of Atlantic Islands by Plecotus bats followed very distinct routes, neither involved lineages from the 'auritus group.' Furthermore, the Strait of Gibraltar perfectly segregates the distinct lineages, which confirms its key role as a geographic barrier. This study also stresses the biogeographical importance of the Mediterranean region, and particularly of North Africa, in understanding the evolution of the western Palaearctic biotas.

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