The changing pace of insular life: 5000 years of microevolution in the Orkney vole (Microtus arvalis orcadensis)

Thomas Cucchi, Ross Barnett, Natalia Martinkova, Sabrina Renaud, Elodie Renvoise, Allowen Evin, Alison Sheridan, Ingrid Mainland, Caroline Wickham-Jones, Christelle Tougard, Jean Pierre Quere, Michel Pascal, Marine Pascal, Gerald Heckel, Paul O'Higgins, Jeremy B. Searle, Keith M. Dobney

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54 Citations (Scopus)
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Island evolution may be expected to involve fast initial morphological divergence followed by stasis. We tested this model using the dental phenotype of modern and ancient common voles (Microtus arvalis), introduced onto the Orkney archipelago (Scotland) from continental Europe some 5000 years ago. First, we investigated phenotypic divergence of Orkney and continental European populations and assessed climatic influences. Second, phenotypic differentiation among Orkney populations was tested against geography, time, and neutral genetic patterns. Finally, we examined evolutionary change along a time series for the Orkney Mainland. Molar gigantism and anterior-lobe hypertrophy evolved rapidly in Orkney voles following introduction, without any transitional forms detected. Founder events and adaptation appear to explain this initial rapid evolution. Idiosyncrasy in dental features among different island populations of Orkney voles is also likely the result of local founder events following Neolithic translocation around the archipelago. However, against our initial expectations, a second marked phenotypic shift occurred between the 4th and 12th centuries AD, associated with increased pastoral farming and introduction of competitors (mice and rats) and terrestrial predators (foxes and cats). These results indicate that human agency can generate a more complex pattern of morphological evolution than might be expected in island rodents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2804-2820
Number of pages17
Issue number10
Early online date29 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2014


  • Dispersal
  • Evolutionary rate
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Island evolution
  • Tooth shape
  • Zooarchaeology


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