Finnegan, Laura A., Edwards, Ceiridwen J. and Rochford, John M. (2008) Origin of, and conservation units in, the Irish red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) population. Conservation Genetics, 9 (5). pp. 1099-1109. ISSN 1566-0621

Knowledge of genetic relationships among wildlife populations is fundamental to their conservation, particularly where translocations are concerned. This study involved a survey of mitochondrial DNA variation in the Irish red squirrel population. Our main aims were: (1) to determine whether the Irish red squirrel population is distinct from that found in Britain, given known translocations that took place from Britain in the 1800’s; and (2) whether inclusion of Irish data into a reanalysis of European red squirrel data could reveal patterns of postglacial spread in Ireland. We found evidence that the current Irish red squirrel population may be a mixture of native and translocated stock, and relationships between Irish and European haplotypes supported a number of colonisation events of the island. Although only one haplotype was common to both Ireland and Britain, it is probable that the most common haplotypes in Ireland are British introductions that have since become extinct in Britain. There was a significant regional genetic structure in Ireland (P < 0.001), as well as between all Irish and British regions. Although it is likely that the red squirrel will not be fundamental in tracing the colonisation of Ireland by mammals, the data demonstrated that individual regions within Ireland, as well as the Irish population as a whole, are distinct both from the British population and from each other and, therefore, these populations should be treated as separate Management Units (MU) in conservation strategies.

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