Nucleotide variation was assessed from the mitochondrial control region of North American moose (Alces alces) to test predictions of a model of range expansion by stepping-stone dispersal and to determine whether patterns of genetic variation support the current recognition of 4 subspecies. Haplotypes formed a star phylogeny indicative of a recent expansion of populations. Values of nucleotide and haplotype diversity were low continent-wide but were greatest in the central part of the continent and lowest in peripheral populations. Despite low mitochondrial diversity, moose exhibited a high degree of differentiation regionally, which was not explained by isolation by distance. Our data indicate a pattern of colonization consistent with a large central population that supplied founders to peripheral populations (other than Alaska), perhaps through rare, long-distance dispersal events (leptokurtic dispersal) rather than mass dispersal by a stepping-stone model. The colonization scenario does not account for the low haplotype diversity observed in Alaska, which may be derived from a postcolonization bottleneck. Establishment of peripheral populations by leptokurtic dispersal and subsequent local adaptation may have been sufficient for development of morphological differentiation among extant subspecies.
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