Glacial Refugia in Northern Europe

Northern Europe with only few ice-free areas during the glacial periods appears to be an unlikely refugial area. However, some strongly differentiated species with several subspecies occur in Northern Europe, and at least some of these species were related to areas unglaciated during the ice ages. Consequently, Lindroth (1968, 1969, 1970) developed the hypothesis that some species survived the last glacial period in ice-free areas of Scandinavia. The majority of his contemporaries rejected this hypothesis. Evidence from recent genetic studies on rock ptarmigans (Lagopus mutus) and lemmings (Lemmus lemmus), however, supports the hypothesis of glacial refugia in Northern Europe (e.g., in Iceland and Northwestern Norway; Holder et al. 1999; Federov and Stenseth 2001). Thus, the existence of whole ecosystems with plant and animal communities seems probable, although more intensive investigations, especially in the field of strongly differentiated species are needed to confirm this.

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