The emergence of squirrelpox in Ireland


  • Editor: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse


Colin J. McInnes, Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Edinburgh EH26 0PZ, UK. Fax: +44 0 131 445 6111



The native red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris population in Britain has been on the decline for many years. A poxvirus associated with the introduced American grey squirrel S. carolinensis has been recognized as having a major role in the reduction of red squirrel numbers by causing a deleterious disease, known as squirrelpox, from which they seldom recover. In Ireland, red squirrel numbers have also been reducing while the grey squirrel population, first introduced in 1911, has been expanding. Until now, no poxvirus-associated disease had been found in Irish red squirrels and therefore, the role of squirrelpox in the displacement of red squirrels by grey squirrels in Ireland has been questioned. Here we report, for the first time, confirmed squirrelpox disease in two populations of red squirrels in Northern Ireland. In addition, we present serological evidence of the extent of poxvirus infection in the grey squirrels from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, including an apparent increase in the seroprevalence of antibodies against the virus in grey squirrels over the period of the study, and discuss the implications of our findings for the conservation tactics employed to protect red squirrels.