The range of the genus Talpa covers almost all Europe up to Western Asia. This genus has never been the object of comprehensive systematic studies using molecular and genetic techniques, such that the evolutionary relationships among species remain unclear. Talpa shows high levels of endemism, and the influence of past glaciation cycles on the distribution pattern of several species has been hypothesized. In this work, we assessed the molecular systematics of the genus using the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b from eight of the nine extant species of Talpa moles. Furthermore, molecular clock estimations were used to hypothesize a biogeographic scenario in concordance with fossil data. Results suggest a monophyletic origin of the genus and a common ancestor for the western European moles T. europaea, T. caeca, T. romana and T. occidentalis. The eastern species T. altaica and T. caucasica are basally divergent. The estimated ages of divergence among lineages are in accordance with a Miocene origin of the extant moles. The genus likely originated in Asia, spreading into Europe during the Pliocene. The evolution of moles appears to have been driven by changes in moisture levels that influenced extinction and speciation events during the Miocene and the Pliocene. Pleistocene climatic oscillations likely caused the range shrinkages and expansions that led to the current distribution pattern of most Talpa species.
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