The tobacco mouse and its relatives: a (tail) of coat colours, chromosomes, hybridisation and speciation

H. C. Hauffe, T. Panithanarak, John F Dallas, J. Pialek, I. Gunduz, J. B. Searle

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    18 Citations (Scopus)


    The article reviews over 30 years' study of the chromosomal variation of the western house mice (Mus musculus domesticus) from the neighboring valleys of Poschiavo and Valtellina on the Swiss-Italian border. This is done in the context of the social and political history of this area, on the grounds that mice, as commensals, are influenced by human history. The chromosomal study of mice in this area was initiated because their unusual black coat color led a 19th century naturalist to describe the "tobacco mice" from Val Poschiavo as a separate species ( Mus poschiavinus). The special coloration of the Val Poschiavo mice is matched by their chromosomes: they have 26 chromosomes instead of the usual 40. The Val Poschiavo mice are not a separate species according to the Biological Species Concept; instead they constitute a chromosome race ( the "Poschiavo", POS) that is related to other races with reduced chromosome numbers that occur in N Italy ( of which only those races in Val Poschiavo and Upper Valtellina have black coats). A phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences suggests that the lineage of chromosome races found in N Italy was not formed during an extreme population bottleneck, although such bottlenecks have apparently occurred during the origin of individual races and certainly have influenced single populations. In one small, isolated population in Valtellina (Migiondo), two chromosome races ( the POS and the "Upper Valtellina", UV, 2n = 24) became reproductively isolated from each other. In another small population (Sernio) bottlenecking led to fixation of a hybrid form with the UV karyotype and coat color, but with allozyme and microsatellite alleles characteristic of mice with the standard 40-chromosome karyotype. Two of the chromosome races in Valtellina ( the UV and the "Mid Valtellina", MV, 2n = 24) also appear to be the product of hybridization. The dynamic history and patchy distribution of the house mouse chromosome races in Val Poschiavo and Valtellina in part reflects extinction-recolonization events; the formation of the UV and MV races and the introduction of the pale brown Standard race mice are believed to reflect such events. Dynamism in the chromosomal constitution of single populations is also evident from 25 years of data on the population in Migiondo. Due to change in agricultural practices, house mice in Valtellina and Val Poschiavo are becoming rarer, which is likely to have further impacts on the distribution and characteristics of the chromosome races in this area. Copyright (C) 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)395-405
    Number of pages10
    JournalCytogenetic and Genome Research
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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