Preventing species invasion: a role for integrative taxonomy?
Integrative taxonomy, a multi-disciplinary approach adding modern techniques to traditional morphology-based methods (e.g. molecular and morphological criteria), can play an important role in bioinvasion research to identify introduced taxa, discover pathways of introduction and inform authorities to control and prevent future introductions. The present study is the first on introduced populations of Callosciurus, Asiatic tree squirrels, known as potentially invasive species in Europe (Italy, Belgium and France). We combined molecular (mitochondrial DNA markers: CoxI, D-loop) and morphometric analysis on skulls, comparing them to the widest morphological and molecular datasets ever assembled for Callosciurus. Squirrels collected in Italy and Belgium share the same haplotypes and skull characteristics, but are conspicuously different from the French population in Antibes. Genetic data revealed close similarity between French squirrels and Pallas's squirrels, Callosciurus erythraeus, from Taiwan, China. Italian and Belgian squirrels formed an independent taxonomic lineage in genetic analyses, whose taxonomic rank needs further investigation. The morphological and morphometric characteristics of these 2 populations are, however, similar to known specimens assigned to Callosciurus erythraeus. These results may indicate a common origin for the populations found in Belgium and Italy. In contrast, French specimens suggest an independent introduction event of squirrels originating from Asia.