Genetics Reveal the Origin and Timing of a Cryptic Insular Introduction of Muskrats in North AmericaReport as inadecuate

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The muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus, is a semiaquatic rodent native to North America that has become a highly successful invader across Europe, Asia, and South America. It can inflict ecological and economic damage on wetland systems outside of its native range. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in the early 1900s, a population of muskrats was introduced to the Isles of Shoals archipelago, located within the Gulf of Maine, for the purposes of fur harvest. However, because muskrats are native to the northeastern coast of North America, their presence on the Isles of Shoals could be interpreted as part of the native range of the species, potentially obscuring management planning and biogeographic inferences. To investigate their introduced status and identify a historic source population, muskrats from Appledore Island of the Isles of Shoals, and from the adjacent mainland of Maine and New Hampshire, were compared for mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences and allele frequencies at eight microsatellite loci. Appledore Island muskrats consistently exhibited reduced genetic diversity compared with mainland populations, and displayed signatures of a historic bottleneck. The distribution of mitochondrial haplotypes is suggestive of a New Hampshire source population. The data presented here are consistent with a human-mediated introduction that took place in the early 1900s. This scenario is further supported by the zooarchaeological record and island biogeographic patterns. This is the first genetic study of an introduced muskrat population within US borders and of any island muskrat population, and provides an important contrast with other studies of introduced muskrat populations worldwide.

Author: Alexis M. Mychajliw , Richard G. Harrison



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