Over the last decades the phylogeography and genetic structure of a multitude of species inhabiting Europe and North America have been described. The flora and fauna of the vast landmasses of north-eastern Eurasia are still largely unexplored in this respect. The Eurasian lynx is a large felid that is relatively abundant over much of the Russian sub-continent and the adjoining countries. Analyzing 148 museum specimens collected throughout its range over the last 150 years we have described the large-scale genetic structuring in this highly mobile species. We have investigated the spatial genetic patterns using mitochondrial DNA sequences (D-loop and cytochrome b) and 11 microsatellite loci, and describe three phylogenetic clades and a clear structuring along an east-west gradient. The most likely scenario is that the contemporary Eurasian lynx populations originated in central Asia and that parts of Europe were inhabited by lynx during the Pleistocene. After the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) range expansions lead to colonization of north-western Siberia and Scandinavia from the Caucasus and north-eastern Siberia from a refugium further east. No evidence of a Berinigan refugium could be detected in our data. We observed restricted gene flow and suggest that future studies of the Eurasian lynx explore to what extent the contemporary population structure may be explained by ecological variables.
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