Decipher how the Pleistocene glaciations determine the distribution of species in Europe

Decipher how the Pleistocene glaciations determine the distribution of species in Europe

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A group of researchers, in which the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC) and the University of Alcalá collaborate, has analyzed how the glaciations that occurred during the Pleistocene (between 2 million and 21,000 years ago) influenced the distribution of species.

Specifically, they have worked with the genus of Coleoptera Carabus and they have verified that the glaciations caused the mixture of species of different lineages and a distribution based on responses to climate in the north and landforms in the south.

This investigation, that could be extrapolated to other groups of species, reveals how changes in climate affect the distribution of animals.

The Genus Carabus, a group of forest beetles that lives mainly in humus and preys on other animal species such as nematodes, worms or other insects, is made up of more than 1000 species, of which around 130 inhabit the European continent.

The research has been based on understand the processes that generate the sets of species that inhabit the different European regions. The authors have found that there is a very marked difference between the north and the south.

As they say, the separation is very clear precisely in the area where the ice limits reached during the last ice age, which also coincides with the distribution area of ​​Central European deciduous forests in which the species of this group have great diversity.

The most prominent effect of the ice ages is that cause species of different evolutionary lineages to mixthe authors state. By analyzing the kinship relationships between the species, they have found that only some recent lineages are found in the same regions.

This shows that the current configuration of species originated as a result of the glaciations, which results in the loss of the endemic character of the oldest lineages.

Another conclusion reached by the group of researchers is that the distribution of species groups in the south is based on geographical barriers, while in the north the groups are distributed according to their climatic requirements.

This makes them think that Northern European species are recent colonizers.


Calatayud, J., Rodríguez, M.A., Molina-Venegas, R. Leo, M., Horreo, J.L. and Hortal, J. (2019). «Pleistocene climate change and the formation of regional species pools«. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 20190291.

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