Background: Freshwater fishes of the genus Esox are found throughout the Holarctic region. The northern pike (E. lucius) has a circumpolar distribution whereas the assumed sister species the Amur pike (E. reichertii) is only found in the Amur region. The genetic structure and post-glacial dispersal of these species are not well known. Here, we use sequence variation at two mitochondrial DNA regions (cytb and D-loop) to investigate the phylogeography, infer location of glacial refugia and investigate the time of divergence and potential demographic expansion of the various clades detected.
Results: The two species did not share haplotypes implying long-term isolation with no gene flow, and divergence of the taxa were estimated at 4.55 Myr. The northern pike mtDNA haplotypes revealed three main lineages. One of the northern pike mtDNA lineages was found throughout the entire Holarctic region suggesting transcontinental dispersal from a single refugium. The three lineages exhibited a star phylogeny, indicating population expansion following isolation in separate glacial refugia. Estimated time of divergence of these lineages was 0.18 ¿ 0.26 Myr.
Conclusions: The precise location of the glacial refugia is uncertain, but our data suggests an Asian origin. The expansion of the circumpolar lineage is estimated to be around the end of the second glacial, implying that the current distribution is due to a recent recolonization from an east-Asian refugium. All three northern pike mtDNA lineages occurred sympatrically in Europe, possibly due to secondary contact. Two of the lineages probably originated from different European refugia, one in the Danube-region and one in Western Europe, the latter seems to be the primary source for recolonization of northern Europe.
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