, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 145-151
Date: 15 Oct 2008

Morphological diversity of the red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris , in Ireland

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The red squirrel in Britain and Ireland has been described as a separate subspecies, Sciurus vulgaris leucourus, based on bleaching of the tail and ear tufts. However, recent investigations in northern England found this light colour confined to one area, probably due to the rapid spread of introduced continental European red squirrels. This study reports the first detailed survey of tail colour and cranial measurements in the Irish red squirrel population to (1) investigate the distribution of the light colour morph in Ireland and (2) determine whether the Irish red squirrel population is morphologically divergent from populations elsewhere in the species range. The light tail colour was found in 57% of individuals and in all regions, although it was most common in the northwest. The mixture of different colour morphs indicates the Irish population is a mixture of different subspecies, including S. vulgaris leucourus, while the cranial measurements suggest the Irish squirrel may be morphologically divergent from populations elsewhere. Combined, these results support previous suggestions that conservation measures seek to maintain the diversity within the Irish red squirrel population.