Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Genetic population structure of invasive raccoons (Procyon lotor) in Hokkaido, Japan: unique phenomenon caused by pet escape or abandonment.

Abstract

Phylogeographic studies can resolve relationships between genetic population structure of organisms and geographical distributions. Raccoons have become feral in Japan, and in Hokkaido island, they have been rapidly increasing in number and spreading since the 1970s. We analyzed mitochondrial (mtDNA) and microsatellite DNA to understand the current phylogenetic distribution and invasive founder events. Overall, Hokkaido raccoons maintained high genetic diversity (i.e., the level of heterozygosity was comparable to the original habitat, North America). Based on mtDNA distribution and microsatellite diversity, Hokkaido raccoons were divided into six management units. However, mtDNA haplotype distributions and genetic structures based on microsatellites did not always correspond to each other (e.g., two geographically and genetically separated populations showed similar mtDNA distributions). In addition, a high degree of genetic admixture was observed in every unit, and the degree of genetic differentiation was low even between regions separated by long distances. Compared with other countries in Europe where genetic distribution of introduced raccoons is more clearly structured, the current results represent a unique and complex phenomenon of pet escape/abandonment in Hokkaido: i.e., genetically related colonies were introduced into multiple regions as founder events, resulting in the current state in which raccoons are not clearly genetically differentiated even 40 years after introduction.