Wildlife conservation in a fragmented landscape: the Eurasian red squirrel on the Isle of Wight
Island populations may have a higher extinction risk due to reduced genetic diversity and need to be managed effectively in order to reduce the risk of biodiversity loss. The Eurasian red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) in the south of England only survive on three islands (the Isle of Wight, Brownsea and Furzey islands), with the Isle of Wight harbouring the largest population in the region. Fourteen microsatellites were used to determine the genetic structure of red squirrel populations on the Isle of Wight, as well as their relatedness to other populations of the species. Our results demonstrated that squirrels on these islands were less genetically diverse than those in Continental mainland populations, as would be expected. It also confirmed previous results from mitochondrial DNA which indicated that the squirrels on the Isle of Wight were relatively closely related to Brownsea island squirrels in the south of England. Importantly, our findings showed that genetic mixing between squirrels in the east and west of the Isle of Wight was very limited. Given the potential deleterious effects of small population size on genetic health, landscape management to encourage dispersal of squirrels between these populations should be a priority.