Genetic structure of fragmented populations of red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in the UK


  • Present addresses: Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, UK; §School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF1 3TL, UK.

E. M. Barratt. E-mail:


The relationships among 207 squirrels from 12 locations in the UK and three in mainland Europe were examined using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequence. Twenty-six haplotypes were detected, many of which were population specific. Eighty per cent of the populations analysed contained two or more haplotypes. Hierarchical analysis of molecular variance showed the majority of genetic variation to be partitioned among populations. Genetic diversity varied considerably within the UK, and conformed to no obvious geographical trend. The populations in Argyll and Spadeadam Forest showed the highest levels of variation in the UK. However, the greatest genetic diversity was seen in Bavaria, southern Germany where six unique alleles were detected in a sample of 10 individuals. Phylogenetic analysis revealed no evolutionary divergence between UK and mainland European haplotypes. We conclude that, within the UK, the genetic patterns observed are most likely to be explained by the effects of genetic drift which has occurred since the isolation of populations during the past few hundred years, hence we cannot detect any underlying phylogeographic pattern. Therefore, the use of larger, geographically distinct populations within the UK for augmentation of small isolated populations is unlikely to pose problems of genetic incompatibility. Further, the role that demographic factors may have in complicating the application of current genetically based management unit criteria is likely to need further attention.