Phylogeography of the North American red fox: Vicariance in Pleistocene forest refugia

Keith B. Aubry, Mark J. Statham, Benjamin Sacks, John D. Perrine, Samantha M. Wisely

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99 Scopus citations


Fossil, archaeological, and morphometric data suggest that indigenous red foxes in North America were derived from vicariance in two disjunct refugia during the last glaciation: one in Beringia and one in the contiguous USA. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a phylogeographical analysis of the North American red fox within its presettlement range. We sequenced portions of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (354 bp) gene and D-loop (342 bp) from 220 historical red fox specimens. Phylogenetic analysis of the cytochrome b gene produced two clades that diverged c. 400 000 years before present (bp): a Holarctic and a Nearctic clade. D-loop analyses of the Nearctic clade indicated three distinct subclades (≥ 99% Bayesian posterior probability); two that were more recently derived (rho estimate c. 20 000 bp) and were restricted to the southwestern mountains and the eastern portion of North America, and one that was older (rho estimate c. 45 000 bp) and more widespread in North America. Populations that migrated north from the southern refugium following deglaciation were derived from the colonization of North America during or prior to the Illinoian glaciation (300 000-130 000 bp), whereas populations that migrated south from the northern refugium represent a more recent colonization event during the Wisconsin glaciation (100 000-10 000 bp). Our findings indicate that Nearctic clade red foxes are phylogenetically distinct from their Holarctic counterparts, and reflect long-term isolation in two disjunct forest refugia during the Pleistocene. The montane lineage, which includes endangered populations, may be ecologically and evolutionarily distinct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2668-2686
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009


  • Beringian land bridge
  • Glacial refugia
  • Phylogeography
  • Pleistocene
  • Red fox
  • Vulpes vulpes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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