Isolation of Mediterranean species in the southern European peninsulas during the cold glacial phases often resulted in differentiation of several genetic lineages confined to the respective peninsulas. However, whilst there is good genetic evidence for multiple refugia in Iberia, there are only limited data available for the Balkans. Therefore, we wish to examine the hypothesis of a strong genetic structuring within southeastern Europe for the existence of multiple Balkan differentiation centres and/or several leading edges. As a model we use the marbled white butterfly, Melanargia galathea.
We studied 18 allozyme loci of 564 individuals from 16 populations distributed over a large part of southeastern Europe. The single populations showed moderately high genetic diversity and no northward decline of genetic diversity was detected. The overall genetic differentiation between populations was considerable (FST 7.0%). Cluster analysis discriminated three genetic groups: (i) a western flank in the former Yugoslavia, parts of eastern Austria and Hungary; (ii) an eastern flank with populations from Bulgaria and Romania (south of the southern Carpathians and eastern Carpathians); and (iii) the eastern Carpathian Basin.
Hierarchical variance analysis distributed 53% of the variance among populations between these three groups. One sample from the Greek–Bulgarian border clustered within the eastern flank, but showed some tendency towards the eastern Carpathian Basin populations. Two populations from Carinthia clustered together with the eastern Carpathian Basin ones and a population from Styria showed an intermediate genetic composition between the three groups. Most probably, the eastern and the western flank groups are due to postglacial range expansion from the northeastern and the northwestern edges of the glacial differentiation centre (so-called leading edges).
The eastern Carpathian Basin group may have resulted from postglacial expansion from northern Greece through valley systems of the central Balkan peninsula, maybe even expanding westwards north of the Balkan mountains reaching some parts of eastern Austria (e.g. Carinthia). Therefore, the Balkanic refugium of M. galathea may or may not have been continuous along the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, but must have been strongly genetically structured.