Hybridization and gene flow in house mice introduced into an existing population on an island



Seventy-seven house mice (Mus domesticus) from the Orkney island of Eday were released on the Isle of May, Firth of Forth in April 1982. The May had a long-established mouse population, which was effectively homozygous at 71 allozymic loci scored; the Eday population had a heterozygosity at allozymic loci of 5% (80 loci scored) and was homozygous for three pairs of Robertsonian fusions. Introduced alleles at six loci expressed in blood were scored in animals trapped on the May at the beginning and end of the breeding season each year from 1982 to 1988. Hybrids between native and introduced animals were found in all parts of the island six months after the original release. All the introduced alleles survived and increased in frequency, albeit to different extents. There was no clear evidence of natural selection from differential survival of individuals or seasonal fluctuation of allele frequencies, but the change and apparent stabilization of frequencies after about three years (at different levels to both the parental Eday population and in the animals released) implies that some controlling factors must have acted.

These results were wholly unexpected. House mouse populations are divided into small demes, apparently with very restricted gene flow between them. The introduced mice on the May may have been successful because the native population had a low variability, but the latter had persisted successfully for over a century and certainly had a normal social structure. The spread of the Eday alleles to stability in the May population destroys the myth that population division inevitably restricts gene flow in house mice, and draws attention to the importance of coadaptation (or ‘genetic architecture’) in maintaining variation and affecting allele frequencies.