An invasive non-native mammal population conserves genetic diversity lost from its native range

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Invasive, non-native species are one of the major causes of global biodiversity loss. Although they are, by definition, successful in their non-native range, their populations generally show major reductions in their genetic diversity during the demographic bottleneck they experience during colonization. By investigating the mitochondrial genetic diversity of an invasive non-native species, the stoat Mustela erminea, in New Zealand and comparing it to diversity in the species' native range in Great Britain, we reveal the opposite effect. We demonstrate that the New Zealand stoat population contains four mitochondrial haplotypes that have not been found in the native range. Stoats in Britain rely heavily on introduced rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus as their primary prey and were introduced to New Zealand in a misguided attempt at biological control of rabbits, which had also been introduced there. While invasive stoats have since decimated the New Zealand avifauna, native stoat populations were themselves decimated by the introduction to Britain of Myxoma virus as a control measure for rabbits. We highlight the irony that while introduced species (rabbits) and subsequent biocontrol (myxomatosis) have caused population crashes of native stoats, invasive stoats in New Zealand, which were also introduced for biological control, now contain more genetic haplotypes than their most likely native source.




Veale, A. J., Holland, O. J., McDonald, R. A., Clout, M. N., & Gleeson, D. M. (2015). An invasive non-native mammal population conserves genetic diversity lost from its native range. Molecular Ecology, 24(9), 2156–2163.

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