The House mice of the Faroe Islands: a study in microdifferentiation

R. J. Berry, M. E. Jakobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


The House mice (Mus musculus L.) of the Faroe Islands (62”N, 7”W) are frequently quoted
as examples of rapid evolution, because they seem to be clearly differentiated bothfrommice
in other parts of the world, and between different islands within the Faroe group despite
being introduced through human agency within the last millennium. They are also of
interest in being among the most climatically stressed mice in the Northern Hemisphere.
The present study is an attempt to determine the extent of differentiation between the
populations on the six Faroe islands which harbour mice. It is based on size and organ
weights, measurements on the mandibles and scapulae, non-metrical variation of the
skeleton, and allozymic frequencies at 22 loci. Distance statistics calculated for all five
groups of data between samples from each island compared with every other, showed that
all the populations were clearly distinct. However the distances calculated from the different
data were disconcertingly heterogeneous. The most likely explanation is that the different
characteristics scored each depend on a relatively small number of different genes.
Taking all the results together, it seems most probable that mice first entered the Faroes
via the main port of Torshavn and spread from there to Nolsey, Hestur and Sandey, and
from Sandey to Fugley and Mykines. The large inter-island differences can be attributed
primarily to “instant sub-speciation” produced by each colonization depending on a probable
small number of effective founders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
JournalJournal of Zoology London
Publication statusPublished - 1978
Externally publishedYes


  • mice
  • Faroe Islands
  • House mice


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