Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Has the introduction of two subspecies generated dispersal barriers among invasive possums in New Zealand?

Abstract

The introduction of species into new environments provides the opportunity for the evolution of new forms through admixture and novel selection pressures. The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula vulpecula from the Australian mainland and T.v.fuliginosus from Tasmania, were introduced multiple times to New Zealand from Australia to become one of New Zealand's most significant pests. Although derived from two subspecies, possums in New Zealand are generally considered to be a single entity. In a previous analysis, we showed that possums in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand appeared to consist of at least two overlapping populations. Here, we extend that analysis using a genotype-by-sequencing approach to examine the origins and population structure of those possums and compare their genetic diversity to animals sampled from Australia. We identify two populations of each subspecies in Hawkes Bay and provide clear evidence of a contact zone between them in which a hybrid form is evident. Our analysis of private alleles shows higher rates of dispersal into the contact zone than away from it, suggesting that the contact zone functions as a sink (and hence as a barrier) between the two subspecies. Given the widespread and overlapping distribution of the two subspecies across both large islands in New Zealand, it is possible that many such contact zones exist. These results suggest an opportunity for a more targeted approach to controlling this pest by recognising sub-specific differences and identifying the contact zones that may form between them.