Self-funded MRes – Population fragmentation of the Isle of Wight red squirrels

MRes – Population fragmentation of the insular population of red squirrels from the Isle of Wight

Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) are currently endangered in the UK as the population dramatically declined following the introduction of grey squirrel (S. carolinensis) in the late 19th century (Shorten 1954, Gurnell et al 2004). The situation is even more dramatic in southern England, where red squirrels only live on islands such as Furzey Island and Brownsea Island in Poole harbour or the Isle of Wight.

Island populations are often characterised by small population size, strong genetic differentiation and high genetic drift (Nei et al. 1975, Frankham 1997). Such populations may have higher extinction risks because of their low genetic diversity which can cause inbreeding depression and limit adaptive potential (Reed & Frankham 2003, Frankham 2005). Previous work demonstrated the genetic uniqueness of the South England populations and emphasised their importance for the conservation of the species (Hardouin et al. 2019). With an estimated population of 3.000, the Isle of Wight is the stronghold of Southern England red squirrels and was therefore investigated further. As expected, low genetic diversity was found but interestingly population fragmentation was also discovered (Hardouin et al. in review).

The proposed project aims to investigate the population fragmentation of the Isle of Wight squirrels further by (1) investigating the colonisation history of the island, (2) modelling putative corridors using GIS and, (3) investigating the population viability of the Isle of Wight squirrels. This MRes includes 14 units of assessment.

Genetic data (14 microsatellites and mitochondrial sequences) will be collected prior to the start of the MRes to mitigate the effect of putative lockdown next year. However, if the candidate is interested and providing it is safe to do so, lab training will be provided.

This research will be done in collaboration with the Wight Squirrels project and the dataset collected will provide evidence to underpin conservation management decisions on the Isle of Wight.

Closing date for applications 31 October 2021.

In addition to our main entry requirements we are looking for candidates with experience in data analysis, attention to detail and a good level of understanding of conservation and/or evolutionary biology. A BSc (Hons) in Biology/Molecular Biology/Ecology or a related subject is preferred.

Please note: This is a self-funded MRes opportunity – it is not a fully-funded studentship.