The cyclic climate regime of the late Quaternary caused dramatic environmental change at high latitudes. Although these events may have been brief in periodicity from an evolutionary standpoint, multiple episodes of allopatry and divergence have been implicated in rapid radiations of a number of organisms. Shrews of the Sorex cinereus complex have long challenged taxonomists due to similar morphology and parapatric geographic ranges. Here, multi-locus phylogenetic and demographic assessments using a coalescent framework were combined to investigate spatiotemporal evolution of 13 nominal species with a widespread distribution throughout North America and across Beringia into Siberia. For these species, we first test a hypothesis of recent differentiation in response to Pleistocene climate versus more ancient divergence that would coincide with pre-Pleistocene perturbations. We then investigate the processes driving diversification over multiple continents. Our genetic analyses highlight novel diversity within these morphologically conserved mammals and clarify relationships between geographic distribution and evolutionary history. Demography within and among species indicates both regional stability and rapid expansion. Ancestral ecological differentiation coincident with early cladogenesis within the complex enabled alternating and repeated episodes of allopatry and expansion where successive glacial and interglacial phases each promoted divergence. The Sorex cinereus complex constitutes a valuable model for future comparative assessments of evolution in response to cyclic environmental change.
Additional publication details
A climate for speciation: rapid spatial diversification within the Sorex cinereus complex of shrews