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Population genetic structure of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is common and widely distributed within the UK. It is a carrier or potential carrier of numerous zoonotic diseases. Despite this, there are no published reports on the population genetics of foxes in Britain. In this study, we aim to provide an insight into recent historical movement of foxes within Britain, as well as a current assessment of the genetic diversity and gene flow within British populations. We used 14 microsatellite markers to analyse 501 red fox samples originating from England, southern Scotland and northern France. High genetic diversity was evident within the sample set as a whole and limited population genetic structure was present in British samples analysed. Notably, STRUCTURE analysis found support of four population clusters, one of which grouped two southern England sampling areas with the nearby French samples from Calais, indicating recent (post-formation of the Channel) mixing of British and French populations. This may coincide with reports of large-scale translocations of foxes into Britain during the nineteenth century for sport hunting. Other STRUCTURE populations may be related to geographic features or to cultural practices such as fox hunting. In addition, the two British urban populations analysed showed some degree of differentiation from their local rural counterparts.
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