Haniza, Mohd Z.H., Adams, Sally, Jones, Eleanor P., MacNicoll, Alan, Mallon, Eamonn B., Smith, Robert H. and Lambert, Mark S. (2015) Large-scale structure of brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) populations in England: effects on rodenticide resistance. PeerJ, 3. e1458. ISSN 2167-8359

The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) is a relatively recent (<300 years) addition to the British fauna, but by association with negative impacts on public health, animal health and agriculture, it is regarded as one of the most important vertebrate pest species. Anticoagulant rodenticides were introduced for brown rat control in the 1950s and are widely used for rat control in the UK, but long-standing resistance has been linked to control failures in some regions. One thus far ignored aspect of resistance biology is the population structure of the brown rat. This paper investigates the role population structure has on the development of anticoagulant resistance. Using mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA, we examined 186 individuals (from 15 counties in England and one location in Wales near the Wales–England border) to investigate the population structure of rural brown rat populations. We also examined individual rats for variations of the VKORC1 gene previously associated with resistance to anticoagulant rodenticides. We show that the populations were structured to some degree, but that this was only apparent in the microsatellite data and not the mtDNA data. We discuss various reasons why this is the case. We show that the population as a whole appears not to be at equilibrium. The relative lack of diversity in the mtDNA sequences examined can be explained by founder effects and a subsequent spatial expansion of a species introduced to the UK relatively recently. We found there was a geographical distribution of resistance mutations, and relatively low rate of gene flow between populations, which has implications for the development and management of anticoagulant resistance.

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