04 February 2013
Wildlife populations have been introduced to new areas by people for centuries, but this human-mediated movement can disrupt natural patterns of genetic structure by altering patterns of gene flow. Insular populations are particularly prone to these influences due to limited opportunities for natural dispersal onto islands. Consequently, understanding how genetic patterns develop in island populations is important, particularly given that islands are frequently havens for protected wildlife. We examined the evolutionary origins and extent of genetic structure within the introduced island population of red squirrels ( Sciurus vulgaris) on the Channel Island of Jersey using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequence and nuclear microsatellite genotypes. Our findings reveal two different genetic origins and a genetic architecture reflective of the introductions 120 years ago. Genetic structure is marked within the maternally inherited mtDNA, indicating slow dispersal of female squirrels. However, nuclear markers detected only weak genetic structure, indicating substantially greater male dispersal. Data from both mitochondrial and nuclear markers support historic records that squirrels from England were introduced to the west of the island and those from mainland Europe to the east. Although some level of dispersal and introgression across the island between the two introductions is evident, there has not yet been sufficient gene flow to erase this historic genetic “footprint.” We also investigated if inbreeding has contributed to high observed levels of disease, but found no association. Genetic footprints of introductions can persist for considerable periods of time and beyond traditional timeframes of wildlife management.