This study investigated the levels of genetic diversity and variation exhibited by red and sika deer in Ireland, along with the extent and regional location of hybridisation between these two species. Bi-parental (microsatellites) and maternally-inherited (mitochondrial DNA) genetic markers were utilised that allowed comparisons between 85 red deer from six localities and 47 sika deer from 3 localities in Ireland. Population genetic structure was assessed using Bayesian analysis, indicating the existence of two genetic clusters in sika deer and three clusters in red deer. Levels of genetic diversity were low in both red and sika deer. These genetic data presented herein indicate a recent introduction of sika deer and subsequent translocations in agreement with historical data. The origins of the current red deer populations found in Ireland, based on genetic data presented in this study, still remain obscure. All hybrid deer (red/sika) found in this study were found in Wicklow, Galway and Mayo where the 'red-like' deer exhibited sika deer alleles/haplotypes, and vice versa in the case of Wicklow. Molecular methods proved invaluable in the identification of the hybrid deer because identification of hybrids based on phenotypic external appearances (pelage and body proportions) can be misleading. Areas where red and sika deer are sympatric need to be assessed for the level and extent of hybridisation occurring and thus need to be managed in order to protect the genetic integrity of 'pure' red deer populations.
- Mitochondrial DNA