Conservation genomics of the European Polecat

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Biological Sciences


Like for many small carnivores in Europe, the populations European polecat (Mustela putorius) have been severely declining due to human activities. While the European populations are showing a slow decline, the UK populations have been driven to near extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. The populations were only found in Wales and Scotland. Changes in practices and active conservation activities have enabled the populations to recover, the European polecat is now found across the whole of UK having been restored to its previous range. However, preliminaries analyses revealed that the expansion of the population range and recolonization has been associated with hybridization with its close relative the domesticated ferret (Mustela putorius furo). The full extent of this introgression, and how, when and where it occurred are not fully understood.

Using samples collected during the Vincent Wildlife Trust national polecat survey and housed at the National Museums Scotland (as well as samples at EI), the project aims at characterising the evolutionary history of the polecat populations in UK, including inferring past demographic events, gene flow during population expansion and investigating present genetic diversity. Low coverage genome sequencing will be applied to genotype existing and museum samples providing genotypes and enabling population reconstruction. Genetic diversity of UK populations will be compared to populations of France, Spain, Germany and Austria, to investigate and quantify the impact of the past population contraction, and subsequent expansion on the current genetic diversity of the polecat populations in UK. Simulations of population contractions and expansion will enable to assess and quantify the impact of the different factors (population size, effective population size, gene flow and introgression) different contribution of


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007334/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2027
2465312 Studentship NE/S007334/1 30/09/2020 31/03/2024 Rebecca Lianne Shaw