Sex chromosomes are useful in elucidating the evolutionary factors affecting diversity and divergence. In particular, Y chromosome analyses may complement studies using mitochondrial DNA for inferring sex-specific population genetic processes.
Y chromosome studies have been scarce due to limited access to genetic markers and the dynamic evolution of Y. Conserved Y-specific primers that could amplify a diverse set of mammalian species were developed from comparison of gametologous X and Y sequences. Y-specific sequence, generally more than one kb, was amplified for all 20 species examined.
Intraspecific diversity on mammalian Y was found to be reduced even when male-biased mutation rate and effective population size were corrected for. A number of factors can cause this low variation on Y of which selection on a haploid chromosome seems most important.
The field vole (Microtus agrestis), a common and well-studied small mammal in Eurasia, was examined for X and Y variability. Earlier studies on mtDNA had shown that the field vole is separated in two distinct lineages in Europe. The X and Y chromosome sequences confirmed the deep split and suggested that the two lineages of field vole should be reclassified as two separate species.
Two distinct Y chromosome haplogroups were found in modern European cattle, distributed among breeds according to a north-south gradient. Ancient DNA analysis of European aurochsen showed the northern haplogroup to be the most common, possibly indicating local hybridization between domestic cows and wild aurochs bulls in Europe.