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Haigh (2011) Genetic variation amongst Irish hedgehogs

Title: The ecology of the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) in rural Ireland: Genetic variation amongst Irish hedgehogs, PhD Thesis, Chapter 8, University College Cork. 2011

Authors: A.J. Haigh

Country: Ireland

Background to study

An investigation into the dispersal of hedgehogs using measures of neutral genetic variation between local populations and an examination of national levels of genetic variation and how this compares to a natural population in Northern France.

Method

  • Genetic samples (ear clips) were taken from 20 individuals consisting of adults and juveniles from a 93 ha site at Ratharoon, Co. Cork, between June 2008 and 2010 for the purpose of establishing local gene flow.
  • Regional samples consisting of hedgehog carcasses resulting from road kill were obtained from three additional sites (2 in Co. Cork and 1 in Co. Galloway) over a period of three years.
  • National samples (N = 37) were collected from random locations and included two pregnant females with foetuses (n = 5 and n = 6) which were checked for multiple paternity and a further 11 hedgehog carcasses were collected opportunistically from road kill in North West France.
  • DNA was extracted from all samples using standard protocol and 11 variable regions (microsatellite markers) of neutral hedgehog DNA was amplified using PCR to examine genetic variation nationally and local levels of gene flow.

Key results

  • Seven microsatellite markers were found to be variable amongst individuals with between 3 and 7 alleles detected across the 94 samples. Three markers however were monomorphic, in that only one allele was detected.  In comparison, all markers were found to be variable in the French samples with between 3 and 7 alleles detected per microsatellite marker).
  • Genetic variation across all 94 samples was less than that observed in 11 samples obtained from France.
  • There was no indication of multiple paternities in the foetuses examined.
  • The lack of variation amongst the locally collected Irish samples meant that family relationships and dispersal amongst clusters and the study group could not be carried out.
  • The low levels of genetic variation across the sampled Irish hedgehog population suggest a historical genetic bottleneck and could indicate that hedgehogs in Ireland are a result of a single introduction of this species.

Key messages to landowners and managers derived from these results

  • Genetic studies on hedgehogs are recommended to enhance knowledge of dispersal (gene flow) and mating behaviour.
  • When introducing species (within their historical range) consideration of the genetic diversity and number of founders is important to secure the evolutionary flexibility and thus long term viability of populations.

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