Of mice and (Viking?) men: phylogeography of British and Irish house mice

Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Jan 22;276(1655):201-7. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0958.


The west European subspecies of house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) has gained much of its current widespread distribution through commensalism with humans. This means that the phylogeography of M. m. domesticus should reflect patterns of human movements. We studied restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and DNA sequence variations in mouse mitochondrial (mt) DNA throughout the British Isles (328 mice from 105 localities, including previously published data). There is a major mtDNA lineage revealed by both RFLP and sequence analyses, which is restricted to the northern and western peripheries of the British Isles, and also occurs in Norway. This distribution of the 'Orkney' lineage fits well with the sphere of influence of the Norwegian Vikings and was probably generated through inadvertent transport by them. To form viable populations, house mice would have required large human settlements such as the Norwegian Vikings founded. The other parts of the British Isles (essentially most of mainland Britain) are characterized by house mice with different mtDNA sequences, some of which are also found in Germany, and which probably reflect both Iron Age movements of people and mice and earlier development of large human settlements. MtDNA studies on house mice have the potential to reveal novel aspects of human history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • Geography*
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Mice / classification
  • Mice / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • United Kingdom


  • DNA, Mitochondrial