Field identification of Apodemus flavicollis and Apodemus sylvaticus: a quantitative comparison of different biometric measurements

Paola Bartolommei 1 , Giulia Sozio 2 , Cristina Bencini 1 , Carlo Cinque, Stefania Gasperini, Emiliano Manzo 1 , Simona Prete 2 , Emanuela Solano 2 , Roberto Cozzolino 1  and Alessio Mortelliti
  • 1 Fondazione Ethoikos, Convento dell’Osservanza, 53030 Radicondoli, Siena, Italy
  • 2 Dipartimento di Biologia e Biotecnologie “Charles Darwin”, Università La Sapienza di Roma, Viale dell’Università 32, 00185 Roma, Italy
  • 3 Dipartimento di Fisiologia e Farmacologia “Vittorio Erspamer”, Università La Sapienza di Roma, P.le Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy
  • 4 U.R. Ecologia comportamentale, Etologia e Gestione della fauna, Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Siena, Via P.A. Mattioli 4, 53100 Siena, Italy
Paola Bartolommei, Giulia Sozio, Cristina Bencini, Carlo Cinque, Stefania Gasperini, Emiliano Manzo, Simona Prete, Emanuela Solano, Roberto Cozzolino and Alessio Mortelliti


The identification of the wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus and the yellow-necked mouse Apodemus flavicollis in the field has challenged many generations of field mammalogists, particularly in northern Spain and continental Italy. These two species present highly similar morphologic and morphometric characteristics especially when they are sympatric. Existing identification methods rely on morphometric and biometric measurements collected on killed or etherized animals, whereas in many field studies measurement may be taken only on live and awake animals. Genetic methods, instead, are time consuming, expensive and do not allow immediate identification in the field, which is a requirement in many types of ecological works. To contribute in filling this knowledge gap, the aims of this research were: 1) to assess biometric measurements (weight and length of hind foot) that allow species identification on live and awake animals and 2) to develop a predictive model and related software that, subject to refinement based on study area, will allow researchers to prioritise the selection of individuals to be identified by molecular approach. This model, based on a large (>1500) sample of individuals captured in two different sites in central Italy, should help to classify live and awake individuals of Apodemus species. Attached to this paper is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that may be used to apply the model to new data.

    • Supplemental_Data
  • Aljanabi, S.M. and I. Martinez. 1997. Universal and rapid salt-extraction of high quality genomic DNA for PCR-based techniques. Nucleic Acids Res. 25: 4692–4693.

  • Amori, G. and L. Contoli. 1986. Allometric and isometric variations in the Italian Apodemus sylvaticus and Apodemus flavicollis with respect to the conditions of allopatry and sympatry. Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 1 161:–188.

  • Amori, G., M. Cristaldi and L. Contoli. 1984. Sui Roditori (Gliridae, Arvicolidae, Muridae) dell’Italia peninsulare ed insulare in rapporto all’ambiente bioclimatico mediterraneo. Animalia 11: 217–269.

  • Ashrafi, S., F. Bontadina, A. Kiefer, I. Pavlinic and R. Arlettaz. 2010. Multiple morphological characters needed for field identification of cryptic long-eared bat species around the Swiss Alps. J. Zool. 281: 241–248.

  • Barčiová, L. and M. Macholán. 2009. Morphometric key for the discrimination of two wood mice species, Apodemus sylvaticus and A. flavicollis. Acta Zool. Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 55: 31–38.

  • Bugarski-Stanojević, V., J. Blagojević, T. Adnađević, V. Jovanović, M. Vujošević. 2013. Identification of the sibling species Apodemus sylvaticus and Apodemus flavicollis (Rodentia, Muridae) – Comparison of molecular methods. Zool. Anz. 252: 579–587.

  • Burnham, K.P. and D.R. Anderson. 2002. Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach (2nd ed.). Springer-Verlag, New York.

  • Cagnacci, F., A. Cardini, P. Ciucci, N. Ferrari, A. Mortelliti, D. Preatoni, D. Russo, M. Scandura, L.A. Wauters, G. Amori. 2013. Less is more: researcher survival guide in times of economic crisis. Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 23: 1–7.

  • Çolak, R., E. Çolak, N. Yiğit, I. Kandemir and M. Sözen. 2007. Morphometric and biochemical variation and the distribution of the genus Apodemus (Mammalia: Rodentia) in Turkey. Acta Zool. Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 53: 239–256.

  • Cristaldi, M. 1984. Problematiche di ricerca sui Roditori del genere Apodemus in Italia. In: Recenti acquisizioni sul genere Apodemus in Italia. Suppl. Ricerche Biologia dclla Selvaggina 9: 13–23.

  • Debernardi, P., E. Patriarca, B.A. Reutter. 2003. Contribution to the knowledge of Apodemus genus in the Gran Paradiso National Park. Hystrix It. J. Mamm. (n.s.) 14: 55–75.

  • Dobigny, G., M. Baylac and C. Denys. 2002. Geometric morphometrics, neural networks and diagnosis of sibling Taterillus species (Rodentia, Gerbillinae). Biol. J. Linnean Soc. 77: 319–327.

  • Elzinga, C., D. Salzer, J. Willoughby and J. Gibbs. 2001. Monitoring plant and animal populations. Blackwell publishing, Oxford.

  • Faraway, J.J. 2006. Extending the linear models with R: Generalized linear, mixed effects and nonparametric regression models. Chapman and Hall/CRC, Boca Raton London New York.

  • Filippucci, M.G., M. Cristaldi, L. Tizi and L. Contoli. 1984. Dati morfologici e morfometrici in popolazioni di Apodemus (Sylvaemus) dell’Italia Centro-Meridionale determinati elettroforeticarnente. In: Recenti acquisizioni sul genere Apodemus in Italia. Suppl. Ricerche Biologia della Selvaggina 9: 85–126.

  • Frynta, D., P. Mikulová, E. Suchomelová and J. Sádlová. 2001. Discriminant analysis of morphometric characters in four species of Apodemus (Muridae: Rodentia) from Eastern Turkey and Iran. Israel J. Zool. 47: 243–258.

  • Hulva, P., I. Horáček, P.P. Strelkov and P. Benda. 2004. Molecular architecture of Pipistrellus pipistrellus/Pipistrellus pygmaeus complex (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae): further cryptic species and Mediterranean origin of the divergence. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 32: 1023–1035.

  • Jojić, V., V. Bugarski-Stanojević, J. Blagojević, M. Vujošević. 2014. Discrimination of the sibling species Apodemus flavicollis and A. sylvaticus (Rodentia, Muridae). Zoologischer Anzeiger 253: 261–269.

  • Krapp, F. 1984. Gli Apodemus d’Italia in rapporto alla situazione europea del Genere. In: Recenti acquisizioni sul genere Apodemus in Italia. Suppl. Ricerche Biologia della Selvaggina 9: 51–63.

  • Kuncová, P. and D. Frynta. 2009. Interspecific morphometric variation in the postcranial skeleton in the genus Apodemus. Belg. J. Zool. 139: 133–146.

  • Lecompte, E., C. Brouat, J. Duplantier, M. Galan, L. Granjon, A. Loiseau, K. Mouline, J. Cosson. 2005. Molecular identification of four cryptic species of Mastomys (Rodentia, Murinae). Biochem. Sys. Ecol. 33: 681–689.

  • Macholán, M., M.G. Filippucci, P. Benda, D. Frynta and J. Sádlová. 2001. Allozyme variation and systematics of the genus Apodemus (Muridae: Rodentia) in Asia Minor and Iran. J. Mamm. 82: 799–813.

  • Michaux, J.R., S. Kinet, M.G. Filippucci, R. Libois, A. Besnard and F. Catzeflis. 2001. Molecular identification of three sympatric species of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus, A. flavicollis, A. alpicola) in western Europe (Muridae: Rodentia). Mol. Ecol. Notes 1: 260–263.

  • Montgomery, W.I. 1980. Population structure and dynamics of sympatric Apodemus species (Rodentia: Muridae). J. Zool. Lond. 192: 351–377.

  • Mortelliti, A., G. Amori, D. Capizzi, C. Rondinini and L. Boitani. 2010. Experimental design and taxonomic scope of fragmentation studies on European mammals: current status and future priorities. Mammal Rev. 40: 125–154.

  • Niethammer, J. 1969. Zur Frage der Introgression bei den Waldmäusen Apodemus sylvaticus und A. flavicollis (Mammalia, Rodentia). Z. Zool. System. Evolut.-forsch. 7: 77–127.I.

  • Niethammer, J. 1978. Apodemus sylvaticus (Linnaeus, 1758) Waldmaus. In: (J. Niethammer and F. Krapp, eds.) Handbuch der Säugetiere Europas, Band I, Nagetiere 1. Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden. pp. 337–358.

  • Oliver, I. and A. Beattie. 1993. A possible method for the rapid assessment of biodiversity. Cons. Biol. 7: 562–568.

  • Panzironi, C., G. Cerone, M. Cristaldi and G. Amori. 1994. A method for the morphometric identification of southern Italian populations of Apodemus (Sylvaemus). Hystrix It. J. Mamm. (n.s) 5: 1–16.

  • Recco, M.A., R. Federici and M. Cristaldi. 1978. Presenza simpatrica di Apodemus flavicollis e Apodemus sylsaticus nelle zone di Tolfa e Manziana: considerazioni critiche. Boll. Mus. Civ. St. Nat. Verona 5: 313–353.

  • Reiners, W. and J. Lockwood. 2010. Philosophical foundations for the practices of ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 1–212.

  • Reutter, B.A., J. Hausser and P. Vogel. 1999. Discriminant analysis of skull morphometric characters in Apodemus sylvaticus, A. flavicollis and A. alpicola (Mammalia; Rodentia) from the Alps. Acta Theriol. 44: 299–308.

  • Reutter, B.A., H. Brünner and P. Vogel. 2001. Biochemical identification of three sympatric Apodemus species by protein electrophoresis of blood samples. Mamm. Biol. 66: 84–89.

  • Rodríguez, A. and H. Andrén. 1999. A comparison of Eurasian red squirrel distribution in different fragmented landscapes. J. Appl. Ecol. 36: 649–662.

  • Vercillo, F., B. Ragni. 2011. Morphometric discrimination between Martes martes and Martes foina in Italy: the use of the baculum. Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 22: 325–331.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Mammalia is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the inventory, analysis and interpretation of Mammalian diversity. It publishes original results on all aspects of systematics (comparative, functional and evolutionary morphology; morphometrics; phylogeny; biogeography; taxonomy and nomenclature), biology, ecology and conservation of mammals.