Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Planting pushed squirrels west

25.09.2001


Museum piece: genes show where the red squirrel went.
© SPL


Museum exhibits’ genes record British forestry policies

Commercial forest planting in the north of England drew red squirrels westwards in the 1980s say UK researchers. This migration led to big changes in squirrel numbers and genetics.

The finding has implications for the protection of the endangered red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Many conservationists advocate leaving ’wildlife corridors’ for animals to travel between patches of fragmenting habitat. This is the first evidence that such corridors work, says Kirsten Wolff, of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne1.



Wolff and her colleagues reconstructed squirrel history by extracting DNA from museum samples dating back to 1918, and from contemporary roadkill. They compared the genetic structure of the population with satellite and historical maps of forest cover.

Deforestation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries left squirrels hanging on in remaining islands of trees, and competition from the larger American grey squirrel has inflicted further damage in the past hundred years. About 161,000 red squirrels remain in the UK, three-quarters of them in Scotland.

Small isolated populations are more likely than larger ones to become extinct by chance. They may also suffer from inbreeding.

Early in the twentieth century, squirrels from the northwest and northeast of England were genetically distinct, the researchers found. In the 1950s and 1960s the planting of the Kielder forest across the north of England reunited formerly isolated squirrel populations. These animals spread rapidly west when the trees reached squirrel-friendly maturity in the 1980s, says Peter Lurz, another member of the Newcastle team.

The eastern squirrels leapt westwards from one patch of forest to the next. The genetic results suggest that, although they don’t like leaving the security of the forest, squirrels can travel between habitat islands up to about 1.5 kilometres apart. This should help conservationists decide where to put nature reserves.

But joining forest fragments has drawbacks, warns Woolf: "When populations become connected, diseases can spread between them." The deadly parapox virus, for example, is one of the biggest threats to British squirrels.

Red squirrels probably benefit more from having more living space than from the chance to mix genes, says ecologist John Gurnell of Queen Mary and Westfield College in London. Red squirrels seem quite resistant to the bad effects of inbreeding, he says - their populations have frequently crashed to small numbers.

Environmentalists have frequently opposed the planting of large numbers of alien conifers in the UK. But red squirrels depend on them, says Gurnell. "Because resources are so limited, future management will have to be highly targeted. The beneficial effects of conifers indicate a way forward for red squirrel conservation."

Gurnell adds that conifers may also be a barrier to the grey squirrel, which prefers deciduous woodland.


References

  1. Hale, M. L. et al. Impact of landscape management on the genetic structure of red squirrel populations. Science, 293, 2246 - 2248, (2001).


JOHN WHITFIELD | Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/010927/010927-3.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Flow of cerebrospinal fluid regulates neural stem cell division
22.05.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Chemists at FAU successfully demonstrate imine hydrogenation with inexpensive main group metal
22.05.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>