Extra-Mediterranean glacial refuges in barred and common grass snakes (Natrix helvetica, N. natrix).
Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 1821 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20218-2.
Extra-Mediterranean glacial refugia of thermophilic biota, in particular in northern latitudes, are controversial. In the present study we provide genetic evidence for extra-Mediterranean refugia in two species of grass snake. The refuge of a widely distributed western European lineage of the barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) was most likely located in southern France, outside the classical refuges in the southern European peninsulas. One genetic lineage of the common grass snake (N. natrix), distributed in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, had two distinct glacial refuges. We show that one was located in the southern Balkan Peninsula. However, Central Europe and Scandinavia were not colonized from there, but from a second refuge in Central Europe. This refuge was located in between the northern ice sheet and the Alpine glaciers of the last glaciation and most likely in a permafrost region. Another co-distributed genetic lineage of N. natrix, now massively hybridizing with the aforementioned lineage, survived the last glaciation in a structured refuge in the southern Balkan Peninsula, according to the idea of ‘refugia-within-refugia’. It reached Central Europe only very recently. This study reports for the first time the glacial survival of a thermophilic egg-laying reptile species in Central Europe.