Conservation genomics of the European Polecat

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

Abstract

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

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007334/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2465312 Studentship NE/S007334/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Rebecca Shaw
 
Description Collaboration with Cornell University, George Mason University - Graham Etherington 
Organisation Cornell University
Department Weill Cornell Medicine
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The group is developing computational pipelines to identify and characterise deleterious variants, including copy number variants, associated with inbreeding.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators are providing samples from endangered black footed ferrets as well as sequencing data from those samples
Impact Oral presentation: Conservation Genomics of the Black-footed ferret Conservation Genomics at the Population Level Conference 2022
Start Year 2022
 
Description Collaboration with Cornell University, George Mason University - Graham Etherington 
Organisation George Mason University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The group is developing computational pipelines to identify and characterise deleterious variants, including copy number variants, associated with inbreeding.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators are providing samples from endangered black footed ferrets as well as sequencing data from those samples
Impact Oral presentation: Conservation Genomics of the Black-footed ferret Conservation Genomics at the Population Level Conference 2022
Start Year 2022
 
Description 34th Mustelid Colloquium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk given at the 34th Mustelid Colloquium on the gene family dynamics of mustelids, focussing on the European polecat and the Black-footed ferret.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Conservation Genomics at the Population Level 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk presented at the Conservation Genomics at the Population level conference on the conservation genomics of the endangered Black-footed ferret.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Darwin Tree of Life at Norwich Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An interactive stand at the Norwich Science Festival which encouraged visitors to take part in an activity that described the different steps involved in a Darwin Tree of Life pipeline, from sample collection to sequencing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Engagement with General Public: Royal Norfolk Show 2022 - Will Nash 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Engagement activities with the general public as part of the Royal Norfolk Show 2022, demonstrating our activities focusing on the application of new technologies to characterise biodiversity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Gaining confidence in public speaking 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I organised a peer development session for students on the ARIES DTP on communicating their science and gaining confidence in their public speaking skills. This also involved getting an external speaker - Cristina Torrente, Public Engagement Coordinator at Imperial College London, to give an informal lecture on their experience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023