The climatic cycles with subsequent glacial and intergalcial periods have had a great impact on the distribution and evolution of species. Using genetic analytical tools considerably increased our understanding of these processes. In this review I therefore give an overview of the molecular biogeography of Europe. For means of simplification, I distinguish between three major biogeographical entities: (i) "Mediterranean" with Mediterranean differentiation and dispersal centres, (ii) "Continental" with extra-Mediterranean centres and (iii) "Alpine" and/or "Arctic" with recent alpine and/or arctic distribution patterns. These different molecular biogeographical patterns are presented using actual examples.
Many "Mediterranean" species are differentiated into three major European genetic lineages, which are due to glacial isolation in the three major Mediterranean peninsulas. Postglacial expansion in this group of species is mostly influenced by the barriers of the Pyrenees and the Alps with four resulting main patterns of postglacial range expansions. However, some cases are known with less than one genetic lineage per Mediterranean peninsula on the one hand, and others with a considerable genetic substructure within each of the Mediterranean peninsulas, Asia Minor and the Maghreb. These structures within the Mediterranean sub-centres are often rather strong and in several cases even predate the Pleistocene.
For the "Continental" species, it could be shown that the formerly supposed postglacial spread from eastern Palearctic expansion centres is mostly not applicable. Quite the contrary, most of these species apparently had extra-Mediterranean centres of survival in Europe with special importance of the perialpine regions, the Carpathian Basin and parts of the Balkan Peninsula.
In the group of "Alpine" and/or "Arctic" species, several molecular biogeographical patterns have been found, which support and improve the postulates based on distribution patterns and pollen records. Thus, genetic studies support the strong linkage between southwestern Alps and Pyrenees, northeastern Alps and Carpathians as well as southeastern Alps and the Dinaric mountain systems, hereby allowing conclusions on the glacial distribution patterns of these species. Furthermore, genetic analyses of arctic-alpine disjunct species support their broad distribution in the periglacial areas at least during the last glacial period.
The detailed understanding of the different phylogeographical structures is essential for the management of the different evolutionary significant units of species and the conservation of their entire genetic diversity. Furthermore, the distribution of genetic diversity due to biogeographical reasons helps understanding the differing regional vulnerabilities of extant populations.