The glacial-interglacial cycles of the upper Pleistocene have had a major impact on the recent evolutionary history of Arctic species. To assess the effects of these large-scale climatic fluctuations to a large, migratory Arctic mammal, we assessed the phylogeography of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) as inferred from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation in the control region. Phylogenetic relationships among haplotypes seem to reflect historical patterns of fragmentation and colonization rather than clear-cut relationships among extant populations and subspecies. Three major haplogroups were detected, presumably representing three separate populations during the last glacial. The most influential one has contributed to the gene pool of all extant subspecies and seems to represent a large and continuous glacial population extending from Beringia and far into Eurasia. A smaller, more localized refugium was most likely isolated in connection with ice expansion in western Eurasia. A third glacial refugium was presumably located south of the ice sheet in North America, possibly comprising several separate refugial populations. Significant demographic population expansion was detected for the two haplogroups representing the western Eurasian and Beringian glacial populations. The former apparently expanded when the ice cap retreated by the end of the last glacial. The large continuous one, in contrast, seems to have expanded by the end of the last interglacial, indicating that the warm interglacial climate accompanied by marine transgression and forest expansion significantly confined population size on the continental mainland. Our data demonstrate that the current subspecies designation does not reflect the mtDNA phylogeography of the species, which in turn may indicate that morphological differences among subspecies have evolved as adaptive responses to postglacial environmental change.
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Vol. 57 • No. 3