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A survey of the hybridisation status of Cervus deer species on the island of Ireland

2014-03-01, Smith, Stephanie L., Carden, Ruth F., Coad, Barry, Birkitt, Timothy, Pemberton, Josephine M.

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) did not recolonise Ireland after the last glaciation, but the population in Co. Kerry is descended from an ancient (c. 5000 BP) introduction and merits conservation. During the mid-19th century exotic species including North American wapiti (C. canadensis) and Japanese sika deer (C. nippon nippon) were introduced to Ireland, mainly via Powerscourt Park, Co. Wicklow. While wapiti failed to establish, sika thrived, dispersed within Co. Wicklow and were translocated to other sites throughout Ireland. Red deer and sika are known to have hybridised in Ireland, particularly in Co. Wicklow, but an extensive survey with a large, highly diagnostic marker panel is required to assess the threat hybridisation potentially poses to the Co. Kerry red deer population. Here, 374 individuals were genotyped at a panel of 22 microsatellites and at a single mtDNA marker that are highly diagnostic for red deer and Japanese sika. The microsatellites are also moderately diagnostic for red deer and wapiti. Wapiti introgression was very low [trace evidence in 2 (0.53 %) individuals]. Despite long-standing sympatry of red deer and sika in the area, no red deer-sika hybrids were detected in Co. Kerry suggesting strong assortative mating by both species in this area. However, 80/197 (41 %) of deer sampled in Co. Wicklow and 7/15 (47 %) of deer sampled in Co. Cork were red-sika hybrids. Given their proximity and that hybrids are less likely to mate assortatively than pure individuals, the Co. Cork hybrids pose a threat to the Co. Kerry red deer.