The species and races of the shrews of the Sorex araneus group exhibit a broad range of chromosomal polymorphisms. European taxa of this group are parapatric and form contact or hybrid zones that span an extraordinary variety of situations, ranging from absolute genetic isolation to almost free gene flow. This variety seems to depend for a large part on the chromosome composition of populations, which are primarily differentiated by various Robertsonian fusions of a subset of acrocentric chromosomes. Previous studies suggested that chromosomal rearrangements play a causative role in the speciation process. In such models, gene flow should be more restricted for markers on chromosomes involved in rearrangements than on chromosomes common in both parent species. In the present study, we address the possibility of such differential gene flow in the context of two genetically very similar but karyotypically different hybrid zones between species of the S. araneus group using microsatellite loci mapped to the chromosome arm level. Interspecific genetic structure across rearranged chromosomes was in general larger than across common chromosomes. However, the difference between the two classes of chromosomes was only significant in the hybrid zone where the complexity of hybrids is expected to be larger. These differences did not distinguish populations within species. Therefore, the rearranged chromosomes appear to affect the reproductive barrier between karyotypic species, although the strength of this effect depends on the complexity of the hybrids produced.
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Vol. 60 • No. 8