Recolonizing lost habitat—how European beavers (Castor fiber) return to south-western Germany

Abstract

For the last decades, the European beaver (Castor fiber) has been recolonizing its original habitats. Reintroductions of beavers from different relict populations into southern Germany have resulted in several admixed populations, which are spreading out along various river systems. The eastern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg is a melting pot of colonization waves originating from various introduced populations. The aim of this study was to exemplify origins and dispersal behaviour of beavers in this region using genetic fingerprint methods. Sequence analysis of hypervariable region 1 (HV1) of the mitochondrial control region and fragment length analyses at 11 microsatellite loci resulted in genetic profiles for 84 samples. The study region is being populated from three different local origins of beavers: the north of the Main-Tauber district, the Neckar River near the city of Mosbach and the Danube tributaries in the east. Main-Tauber samples were most diverse, including microsatellite alleles and HV1 haplotypes specific to C. f. albicus (from the German Elbe relict population). In view of the geographical proximity of this region to a release site of C. f. albicus in the Spessart area, this finding strongly suggests gene flow between beaver populations of different provenience. Two remaining local origins at the Neckar and Danube tributaries are closely related to each other, thus possibly descending from the same original (admixed) population. This study is intended to serve as a starting point for follow-up fine-scale research into dispersal behaviour of European beavers currently recolonizing their original habitats.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart (Referat 56) for the special permit allowing us to set up hair traps. We thank the team at CVUA Stuttgart (Chemisches und Veterinäruntersuchungsamt Stuttgart) and A. Weber (Office for Wildlife Research and Conservation, Jeggau) for providing tissue samples from beavers found dead. We also thank K.-H. Geier (Landratsamt Main-Tauber-Kreis) and the local beaver conflict managers (Biberberater), especially P. Kuch, S. Dehner and K. Fahrmeier, for collecting hair samples and providing information on beaver territories. Additionally, we are grateful to W. Beyer and his team from the Institute of Animal Science of the University of Hohenheim for granting us access to their automated sequencer and to C. Leidenroth for assisting with sample acquisition.

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Mai, S., Weinhardt, M., Allgöwer, R. et al. Recolonizing lost habitat—how European beavers (Castor fiber) return to south-western Germany. Mamm Res 63, 255–265 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-018-0360-6

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Keywords

  • Dispersal
  • Haplotypes
  • Microsatellites
  • Recolonization
  • Reintroduction