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Conservation genetics and population history of the threatened European mink Mustela lutreola, with an emphasis on the west European population


Johan Michaux, Fax: 0032 4 366 38 45, E-mail:


In species of great conservation concern, special attention must be paid to their phylogeography, in particular the origin of animals for captive breeding and reintroduction. The endangered European mink lives now in at least three well-separated populations in northeast, southeast and west Europe. Our aim is to assess the genetic structure of these populations to identify ‘distinct population segments’ (DPS) and advise captive breeding programmes. First, the mtDNA control region was completely sequenced in 176 minks and 10 polecats. The analysis revealed that the western population is characterized by a single mtDNA haplotype that is closely related to those in eastern regions but nevertheless, not found there to date. The northeast European animals are much more variable (π = 0.012, h = 0.939), with the southeast samples intermediate (π = 0.0012, h = 0.469). Second, 155 European mink were genotyped using six microsatellites. The latter display the same trends of genetic diversity among regions as mtDNA [gene diversity and allelic richness highest in northeast Europe (HE = 0.539, RS = 3.76), lowest in west Europe (HE = 0.379, RS = 2.12)], and provide evidences that the southeast and possibly the west populations have undergone a recent bottleneck. Our results indicate that the western population derives from a few animals which recently colonized this region, possibly after a human introduction. Microsatellite data also reveal that isolation by distance occurs in the western population, causing some inbreeding because related individuals mate. As genetic data indicate that the three populations have not undergone independent evolutionary histories for long (no phylogeographical structure), they should not be considered as distinct DPS. In conclusion, the captive breeding programme should use animals from different parts of the species’ present distribution area.

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