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Inferring the sources of postglacial range expansion in two large European land snails

Publication at Faculty of Science |


Exact locations of glacial refugia are relevant for the study of contemporary biodiversity, not only as places less disturbed during the climatic changes but also as sources of rapid expansion of the biota after the Last Glacial cycle. If continuously inhabited over several of the Quaternary glacial cycles, the refugia are readily identifiable by the accumulated genetic diversity.

However, the sources of the Holocene range expansion, particularly important for the emergence of present-day bio- and phylogeographic patterns and for realistic estimation of species' expansion rates, might have been located at the fringes of the glacial species ranges and lack unique lineages. This problem is pertinent when the variation is explored at slowly evolving genetic markers.

We suggest that the location of such source refugia may be approximated by reconstructing the geographic location as a continuous trait evolving along the branches of a phylogenetic tree. We applied this approach, using the BEAST software, on two large southeast European land snail species: Caucasotachea vindobonensis and Helix thessalica.

We found evidence for C. vindobonensis refugia in the western Balkans; notable is an apparently old refugium in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The plausible sources of the species' Holocene range expansion, however, were located around the south-western end of the Carpathians.

Although the source areas were likely similar in H. thessalica, some expansion sources suggested by the analyses (e.g., Podolia, Ukraine) appeared implausible and driven by sampling clustered in that area. The applied approach allows for additional exploitation of the mitochondrial data gathered during the past two decades of animal phylogeography studies.