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Conservation Genetics

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1171–1182 | Cite as

Limited diversity associated with duplicated class II MHC-DRB genes in the red squirrel population in the United Kingdom compared with continental Europe

  • Keith T. Ballingall
  • Angeline McIntyre
  • Zhenzhen Lin
  • Naomi Timmerman
  • Erik Matthysen
  • Peter W.W. Lurz
  • Lynsey Melville
  • Amy Wallace
  • Anna L. Meredith
  • Claudia Romeo
  • Lucas A. Wauters
  • Anthony W. Sainsbury
  • Colin J. McInnes
Research Article

Abstract

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) population in the United Kingdom has declined over the last century and is now on the UK endangered species list. This is the result of competition from the eastern grey squirrel (S. carolinensis) which was introduced in the 19th century. However, recent evidence suggests that the rate of population decline is enhanced by squirrelpox disease, caused by a viral infection carried asymptomatically by grey squirrels but to which red squirrels are highly susceptible. Population genetic diversity provides some resilience to rapidly evolving or exotic pathogens. There is currently no data on genetic diversity of extant UK squirrel populations with respect to genes involved in disease resistance. Diversity is highest at loci involved in the immune response including genes clustered within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Using the class II DRB locus as a marker for diversity across the MHC region we genotyped 110 red squirrels from locations in the UK and continental Europe. Twenty-four Scvu-DRB alleles at two functional loci; Scvu-DRB1 and Scvu-DRB2, were identified. High levels of diversity were identified at both loci in the continental populations. In contrast, no diversity was observed at the Scvu-DRB2 locus in the mainland UK population while a high level of homozygosity was observed at the Scvu-DRB1 locus. The red squirrel population in the UK appears to lack the extensive MHC diversity associated with continental populations, a feature which may have contributed to their rapid decline.

Keywords

Red squirrel MHC DRB Population UK Diversity Squirrelpox virus Disease 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge all those who contributed genetic material to this study. KB and CM are supported by the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) Division.

Supplementary material

10592_2016_852_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (172 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPTX 172 kb)
10592_2016_852_MOESM2_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 21 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith T. Ballingall
    • 1
  • Angeline McIntyre
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
  • Zhenzhen Lin
    • 1
    • 3
  • Naomi Timmerman
    • 1
    • 6
  • Erik Matthysen
    • 6
  • Peter W.W. Lurz
    • 3
  • Lynsey Melville
    • 1
  • Amy Wallace
    • 1
  • Anna L. Meredith
    • 3
  • Claudia Romeo
    • 4
  • Lucas A. Wauters
    • 5
  • Anthony W. Sainsbury
    • 2
  • Colin J. McInnes
    • 1
  1. 1.Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science ParkPenicuik, MidlothianScotland, UK
  2. 2.Institute of ZoologyZoological Society of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary StudiesThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  4. 4.Department of Veterinary Sciences and Public HealthUniversity of MilanMilanItaly
  5. 5.Department of Theoretical and Applied SciencesUniversity of InsubriaVareseItaly
  6. 6.Evolutionary Ecology GroupUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  7. 7.Department of Ecosystem and Public HealthUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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