Extant populations of Irish red grouse (Lagopus lagopus hibernicus) are both small and fragmented, and as such may have an increased risk of extinction through the effects of inbreeding depression and compromised adaptive potential. Here we used 19 microsatellite markers to assay genetic diversity across 89 georeferenced samples from putatively semi-isolated areas throughout the Republic of Ireland and we also genotyped 27 red grouse from Scotland using the same markers. The genetic variation within Ireland was low in comparison to previously published data from Britain and the sample of Scottish red grouse, and comparable to threatened European grouse populations of related species. Irish and Scottish grouse were significantly genetically differentiated (F-ST = 0.07, 95% CI = 0.04-0.10). There was evidence for weak population structure within Ireland with indications of four distinct genetic clusters. These correspond approximately to grouse populations inhabiting suitable habitat patches in the North West, Wicklow Mountains, Munster and Cork, respectively, although some admixture was detected. Pair-wise F-ST values among these populations ranged from 0.02 to 0.04 and the overall mean allelic richness was 5.5. Effective population size in the Munster area was estimated to be 62 individuals (95% CI = 33.6-248.8). Wicklow was the most variable population with an AR value of 5.4 alleles/locus. Local (Munster) neighbourhood size was estimated to 31 individuals corresponding to an average dispersal distance of 31 km. In order to manage and preserve Irish grouse we recommend that further fragmentation and destruction of habitats need to be prevented in conjunction with population management, including protection of the integrity of the existing population by refraining from augmenting it with individuals from mainland Britain to maximise population size.
- red grouse
- genetic diversity