Variation in cranial form and sexual dimorphism among five European populations of the otter Lutra lutra

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Abstract

Craniometric variation between otters Lutra lutra (L.) from Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, Norway, and Czechoslovakia was examined using multivariate statistical analyses. Significant sexual dimorphism in cranial size and shape occurred in all samples, although the degree of dimorphism varied between samples, with the Irish sample exhibiting the most. Morphological differences were also observed across samples. Three groups were observed; Irish, Scottish, (Mainland and Shetland), and Mainland European, though within the two composite groups the samples were still differentiable. There was a good agreement between the patterns of variation between male and female samples, but morphological differentiation was not significantly correlated with geographic separation. These results are discussed in the light of our current knowledge of the ecology of the species in Europe. It is argued that, while there is morphological evidence for subspecific status of the Irish otter (as L. l. roensis), further investigations of morphological and genetic variation across Eurasia are clearly required.

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