Identifying eradication units in an invasive mammalian pest species
Eradication of invasive species is an important component for species conservation and ecosystem restoration. Success of eradications is dependent on knowledge of population connectivity in order to determine reinvasion pathways, and hence populations requiring simultaneous eradication (eradication units). The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) was introduced into New Zealand from Australia and Tasmania, and now occupies a wide range of habitats across the majority of New Zealand. Possums are one of the most destructive invaders within New Zealand, with extensive control operations occurring throughout the country. Understanding the population connectivity of possums on mainland New Zealand (North and South Islands) will enhance the success of planned eradications. We examined the genetic population structure of invasive possums to identify gene flow, thus reinvasion pathways, between seven populations around Dunedin and on the Otago Peninsula where eradication of possums is occurring. Genetic variation at 12 microsatellite loci was comparable between all sampled populations and exhibited a significant isolation by distance pattern. Bayesian clustering methods supported the existence of two population clusters, indicating the presence of a reinvasion pathway onto the Otago Peninsula from urban areas at the Southern end of the Peninsula. To avoid recolonisation, all possums on the Otago Peninsula should be eradicated simultaneously, with the implementation and ongoing maintenance and monitoring of an urban buffer zone. We recommend pre-eradication genetic analyses be adopted by all pest managers to define appropriate eradication units, thereby maximising eradication success and avoiding costly failures.