Using genetics to help our dormice
Combining genetic studies with landscape features to help our hazel dormouse thrive.
The hazel dormouse is our only native dormouse. Their name comes from the hazelnuts they nibble and their reputation for loving to sleep.
Hazel dormice numbers have plummeted since Victorian times and while our long term research suggests the rate at which they are disappearing is slowing, the fact is they are still on the decline. Many of the populations have become isolated in pockets of good woodland habitat but with no routes in or out such as healthy hedgerows connecting to a neighbouring woodland. This could potentially reduce the genetic diversity leaving the dormice vulnerable to disease, inbreeding and an inability to adapt to environmental changes.
PTES is funding Manchester Metropolitan University to research the impact of isolation on the genetic diversity of dormouse populations across England and Wales. The study will compare the genetic variation within a population with the level of habitat connectivity i.e. landscape features which facilitate dormouse movement such as hedgerows and those which inhibit it including roads and railways. The results will inform future nationwide conservation strategies, for example, quantifying minimum requirements to sustain a healthy dormouse population, identifying priority areas where habitat connectivity needs to be improved or selecting woodlands which may benefit from the introduction of captive bred populations.