Conservation Genetics

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 167-179

First online:

Patterns of genetic diversity in the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris L.): Footprints of biogeographic history and artificial introductions

  • Marie L. HaleAffiliated withSchool of Biology, University of Newcastle Email author 
  • , Peter W.W. LurzAffiliated withSchool of Biology, University of Newcastle
  • , Kirsten WolffAffiliated withSchool of Biology, University of Newcastle

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British S. vulgaris are classified as aseparate subspecies, S. v. leucourus, tomainland Europe. While S. vulgaris is notunder threat across most of its Eurasian range,in Britain, Ireland and Italy populations aredeclining, mainly due to the introduction ofthe American grey squirrel (S.carolinensis). In this study, we conducted anextensive survey of mitochondrial DNA variationin British S. vulgaris populations and apreliminary survey of continental Europeanpopulations. Our main aims were to determinethe extent to which any populations of S.vulgaris in Britain are partially or whollythe product of artificial translocation of redsquirrels from continental Europe, and whethercontinental population variation will provideinformation on post-glacial reafforestationpatterns in Europe. We found that the majorityof extant populations of British S.vulgaris are of continental ancestry, manywith a very recent (last 40 years) Scandinavianancestry. The Scandinavian haplotype hasrapidly become the most dominant innortheastern Britain, despite not appearing innorthern English populations until 1966. Thissuggests that these squirrels may have anadaptive advantage in the non-native sprucedominated conifer plantations of northernEngland. Our preliminary examination ofcontinental populations demonstrated that theyare sufficiently differentiated to allow aphylogeographic study of this species.

artificial introductions genetic introgression Sciurus vulgaris