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, 8 (12), e83837

Phylogeography and Post-Glacial Recolonization in Wolverines (Gulo Gulo) From Across Their Circumpolar Distribution


Phylogeography and Post-Glacial Recolonization in Wolverines (Gulo Gulo) From Across Their Circumpolar Distribution

Joanna Zigouris et al. PLoS One.


Interglacial-glacial cycles of the Quaternary are widely recognized in shaping phylogeographic structure. Patterns from cold adapted species can be especially informative - in particular, uncovering additional glacial refugia, identifying likely recolonization patterns, and increasing our understanding of species' responses to climate change. We investigated phylogenetic structure of the wolverine, a wide-ranging cold adapted carnivore, using a 318 bp of the mitochondrial DNA control region for 983 wolverines (n=209 this study, n=774 from GenBank) from across their full Holarctic distribution. Bayesian phylogenetic tree reconstruction and the distribution of observed pairwise haplotype differences (mismatch distribution) provided evidence of a single rapid population expansion across the wolverine's Holarctic range. Even though molecular evidence corroborated a single refugium, significant subdivisions of population genetic structure (0.01< ΦST <0.99, P<0.05) were detected. Pairwise ΦST estimates separated Scandinavia from Russia and Mongolia, and identified five main divisions within North America - the Central Arctic, a western region, an eastern region consisting of Ontario and Quebec/Labrador, Manitoba, and California. These data are in contrast to the nearly panmictic structure observed in northwestern North America using nuclear microsatellites, but largely support the nuclear DNA separation of contemporary Manitoba and Ontario wolverines from northern populations. Historic samples (c. 1900) from the functionally extirpated eastern population of Quebec/Labrador displayed genetic similarities to contemporary Ontario wolverines. To understand these divergence patterns, four hypotheses were tested using Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC). The most supported hypothesis was a single Beringia incursion during the last glacial maximum that established the northwestern population, followed by a west-to-east colonization during the Holocene. This pattern is suggestive of colonization occurring in accordance with glacial retreat, and supports expansion from a single refugium. These data are significant relative to current discussions on the conservation status of this species across its range.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Historic and contemporary Holarctic distribution of wolverines and sampling localities.
Historic and current distribution of wolverines in Eurasia (adapted from National Geographic Society [116]) and North America (adapted from COSEWIC [115]), and sampled localities from Wilson et al. - triangle; Walker et al. - star; Tomasik and Cook - inverted triangle; Cegelski et al. - solid circle; Schwartz et al. - solid square; Frances - diamond; Zigouris et al. - open circle; Rochnov and Meschersky unpub. - open square; New contemporary samples - plus sign; and New historic samples - x symbol.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Scenarios used in DIYABC and logistic regression.
Graphic representation of the four scenarios used in DIYABC and logistic regression of posterior probabilities with a recent bottleneck (20th century) for MB-ON. Please note that time is not to scale.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Geographical distribution of mtDNA haplotypes.
The geographic distribution of mtDNA control region haplotypes based on frequencies observed for each region. Historic samples are presented separately and identified with a red border and red sample size number.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Median-joining network.
Median-joining network of the mtDNA control region haplotypes for all samples combined. Haplotype size reflects relative frequency. Each branch represents one mutational step, unless otherwise noted. Black circles represent missing intermediate haplotypes.

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Grant support

Funding for this study was provided by the Ontario Living Legacy Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, The Wolverine Foundation, Inc., Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Mountain Equipment Co-op Research Grant, and Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to JAS and CJK. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.