• Conservation biogeography;
  • dispersal;
  • management;
  • molecular markers;
  • non-anadromous freshwater fish;
  • phylogeography;
  • population genetics;
  • post-glacial biota



We investigated genetic variation of Irish pike populations and their relationship with European outgroups, in order to elucidate the origin of this species to the island, which is largely assumed to have occurred as a human-mediated introduction over the past few hundred years. We aimed thereby to provide new insights into population structure to improve fisheries and biodiversity management in Irish freshwaters.


Ireland, Britain and continental Europe.


A total of 752 pike (Esox lucius) were sampled from 15 locations around Ireland, and 9 continental European sites, and genotyped at six polymorphic microsatellite loci. Patterns and mechanisms of population genetic structure were assessed through a diverse array of methods, including Bayesian clustering, hierarchical analysis of molecular variance, and approximate Bayesian computation.


Varying levels of genetic diversity and a high degree of population genetic differentiation were detected. Clear substructure within Ireland was identified, with two main groups being evident. One of the Irish populations showed high similarity with British populations. The other, more widespread, Irish strain did not group with any European population examined. Approximate Bayesian computation suggested that this widespread Irish strain is older, and may have colonized Ireland independently of humans.

Main conclusions

Population genetic substructure in Irish pike is high and comparable to the levels observed elsewhere in Europe. A comparison of evolutionary scenarios upholds the possibility that pike may have colonized Ireland in two ‘waves’, the first of which, being independent of human colonization, would represent the first evidence for natural colonization of a non-anadromous freshwater fish to the island of Ireland. Although further investigations using comprehensive genomic techniques will be necessary to confirm this, the present results warrant a reappraisal of current management strategies for this species.